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Grad night parties have been saving lives for decades

The Forest Grove High School Grad Night Committee would like to thank all of the people who have helped us raise funds for the 2015 grad night party. During the process of raising money, the committee became aware that many members of the community were unfamiliar with the concept of a grad night party. As such, we felt an explanation of the history and widespread prevalence of these parties would be of assistance.

Grad night parties have been occurring since at least the 1960s. In response to a tragic automobile accident the night of graduation in the previous year, the management of Disneyland sold tickets to students from eight Southern California high schools at a cost of $3.95 per ticket. A total of 8,500 attended the first grad night party on June 15, 1961. By 2012, Disneyland had hosted over 5 million graduates from thousands of California high schools.

The tradition proved so successful that it continued every year since 1961 in Anaheim, and eventually grew to also take place at the parks in Walt Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland and Disneyland Paris. Aside from the annual grad night at the Disney parks, many other industry parks have planned similar special events for graduating high school seniors.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the months from April through July see some of the highest teenage traffic fatalities of the entire year. The nights of prom and graduation are especially dangerous for teens, as there is often alcohol involved.

According to statistics provided by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, car crashes are the leading cause of death for teens, and about a quarter involve an underage drinking driver. The U.S. Surgeon General has reported that life expectancy has improved over the last 75 years for every age group — except for the one that includes high school seniors. The death rate for this age group is higher than it was 20 years ago due to alcohol-induced crashes.

According to AAA, researchers have found that fatal crash rates for 16- to 19-year-olds increase fivefold when two or more teen passengers are present versus when teens drive alone. Each year, automobile accidents take the lives of nearly 3,000 teens in the 16-to-19 age group, and a quarter of a million more are sent to hospital emergency rooms with serious injuries.

In the 1980s, grad night parties transitioned from a few hours on the evening of graduation to an all-night party. Studies were showing that some kids were attending grad night parties in the evening, then drinking and driving later that night. The focus of the all-night party is to provide kids with a safe, monitored environment, full of fun activities with their friends. It is meant to be an experience they will remember for life.

Throwing an all-night party for hundreds of graduates is an expensive venture. Parents across the country raise money, without assistance from the schools, by forming committees and fundraising. Numerous types of fundraisers are used, including pancake breakfasts, car washes, bottle drives, talent shows, silent auctions and food sales.

Our group has had great success with our bottle drives, wine night with silent auction and pie sales. The outpouring of support we have received from the community has been inspiring to us. The students of FGHS will have a night of food, dancing, volleyball, basketball, karaoke, swimming, rock wall climbing and much more.

Grad night committees across the country work hard all year to ensure all graduates can end their school career with a night of sober and safe celebration. Money is also raised for scholarships, to allow graduates who cannot afford the ticket price to attend with their peers.

If a single life is saved this June 6, then every bit of effort was worthwhile.

Lisa Maisel is a member of the FGHS 2015 Grad Night Committee, and an RN at Tuality Healthcare. Lisa Downing, also a member of the Grad Night Committee, is a continuing education coordinator at Pacific University.

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