- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 9, 2002

ALPHARETTA, Ga. Like many seniors, the class of 2002 at St. Pius High School celebrated graduation with a party that went past dawn. But instead of kegs of beer, this party featured students' parents and a priest.
There's nothing new about school-sponsored graduation parties, which parents and educators organize to steer seniors away from drugs and alcohol. But the bashes are getting more elaborate than ever, and seniors who long shunned them as uncool are actually showing up.
Shea Tighe, a football and baseball player, had his pick of unsupervised celebrations, but chose to attend St. Pius' parent-packed one instead.
"It's not every day that you have your whole senior class together. It's a really special thing," Shea said. "I met people that night playing at the blackjack table that I had never talked to before. And the prizes were really great."
Parents and teachers have tried to give chaperoned graduation parties a major makeover. Yearbook-signing sessions have been replaced by pool parties, and pastel streamers have made way for Las Vegas-style casino games.
For $55 a ticket, Shea and his classmates enjoyed a fete that included a packed food table, a Wendy's Frosty machine, a slide show and prizes, including a color television and dorm-sized refrigerator.
The party provided a sense of security for his mother, Stephanie Tighe, on a night traditionally known for raucous partying.
"It's a good time for the kids to get together for the last time in an alcohol-free environment," she said. "It's safer than them being out on the streets."
Many parents and educators say the popularity of chaperoned parties has grown in recent years because of efforts to lure graduates with lavish bashes that the teens could never match themselves.
"Of course, we're trying to make it more attractive than going out with friends, getting drunk and doing something stupid," said mother Lisa Stallsworth.
Her daughter, Janice, and about 45 other DeKalb County students pooled their money for a "safe and sober" graduation party. They celebrated all night at a pricey Atlanta hotel, where parents rented out a cluster of suites and chaperoned the activities.
"It's not really how I pictured my graduation party, but I know how easy it would be to jeopardize our futures by one mistake," said Janice, who will be attending Emory University in the fall. "It's not worth it. Plus, our parents are paying for it. It doesn't get better than that. And it's kinda cool that we get to share this experience with them."
Partiers got pampered at the spa, ordered room service and stayed up watching movies.
At Loudoun County high schools, more than 10,000 seniors have attended school-sponsored graduation celebrations since 1989, said Wayde Byard, spokesman for the school district.
"For seniors, it has really become part of the culture," Mr. Byard said. "We have games, videos, dancing everything but alcohol."
At Frankenmuth High School in Michigan, all but two of this year's 146 seniors have shelled out $15 for tickets to party with parents and teachers June 6, Principal Donald Zoller said.
"A lot of the kids show up because there is the possibility of getting really nice prizes," Mr. Zoller said.
That's one reason why senior class President Sarah Herzog plans to attend.
"Everybody walks away with something," Sarah said. "It's just the place to be."

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