Although the weather may have you feeling otherwise, summer is fast approaching, and with it comes the end of another school year, and for the class of 2017, their final year of high school. There are only 25 high school days left for the graduating class (but who’s counting?), and these last few weeks will be a whirlwind of senior exclusive activities, from banquets and barbecues to awards nights and graduation practices.
To top it all off, graduation is followed by
one of the most exciting events for seniors: Grad Night. Since 1989, Benicia High’s Grad Night has served as the ultimate celebration for graduating seniors, capping off a bitter sweet farewell with an all night party for the whole class.
So how exactly do you create a party designed to entertain and satisfy 400 plus 17 and 18 year olds? After speaking with Grad Night Committee co-chair Kris Birmingham, I found my answer: with a lot of hard-working and dedicated volunteers. Like most of the 100-150 volunteers that participate in this extravaganza every year, Birmingham is the parent of a BHS student (although volunteering is open to all members of the community, not just parents.) She’s been Grad Night’s co-chair for three of the four years she’s been on the committee, and she knows firsthand the enormous effort put into making the night a success. Grad Night is a year long process, one that involves many subcommittees that cover everything from logistical deals to fundraising to coming up with the year’s theme– which is always unique, elaborate, and kept as confidential as possible until the night of the event.
One aspect that makes Grad Night so enticing is that it is a nonprofit organization, and a completely separate entity from the school, put on by the community as a congratulations to seniors. But even though it is considered an “outside organization,” Kris testified to the commitment and support of the high school in making the event possible. Along with providing the location, BHS helps with announcements, flyers, posters, as well as supplying an amazing custodial staff to help the event run as smoothly as possible.
Even with the school’s support, getting Grad Night planned, funded and set up is no small undertaking. It requires an extensive amount of time and energy, but Birmingham enjoys every second of it. She has always been involved in the schools her children have attended, and BHS was no different.
Birmingham noted that, “as you got further up the academic ranks, there was a lot less involvement,” so she was eager to volunteer when her daughter became a freshman.
Grad Night was the perfect opportunity, but for Birmingham, it is about more than just being involved in her daughter’s school. She loves the event’s purpose (“creating a safe and sober environment for graduating students”) and the message it conveys (“a way for the community to express congratulations and a job well done.”)
Since she has been a volunteer, Birmingham has volunteered at every single Grad Night. The theme is kept as secret as possible so seniors are “wowed” when they show up, and according to Birmingham, some of the reactions are priceless. At 2015’s Grad Night, a senior approached her and told her, “This is even better than the senior trip to Disneyland!”
It’s rewarding moments like those that keep volunteers coming back every year. Proof of this can be found with Judi Brink, the “set up and take down” coordinator that’s been with Grad Night since its conception 27 years ago. As stated by Birmingham, Brink is one of the originals, part of the core group of volunteers that turned the idea into a reality in 1989. What started out as a small event run by a handful of volunteers turned into the massive and successful takeover that is Senior Grad Night.
For a night as extravagant as Grad Night to be a success, there is an unavoidable necessity: funds. An entire subcommittee of Grad Night is dedicated to raising money for the event throughout the year, from selling raffle tickets to asking businesses for donations to hosting “takeovers” at local restaurants. The money raised goes to everything from purchasing equipment to hiring professional movers to transporting decorations to a staggering amount of other minute details. It is because of these expenses that ticket prices continue to rise as the Grad Night deadline approaches– which is why seniors should get their tickets asap!
It takes an abundance of planning, creativity, funds, and– most importantly– volunteers to pull of Grad Night, but time and time again the event has proven itself to be a massive success. Words alone do not do it justice, but Birmingham’s come close with her description of Grad Night, as a “once in a life time opportunity not to be missed, a great way for kids to be kids one last time, and a last chance to be with their high school friends before embarking on the next chapter of their lives.”
For more information about donating, volunteering, and event details, visit https://www.beniciagradnight.net.
Jasmine Weis is a senior at Benicia High School.