GONZALES — Pasture parties and bonfires might make a return for graduation night celebrations if one particular event ceases to exist. And as of now, that appears to be the case.
For the past 18 years, the Gonzales High School Project Graduation has been held as a year-end event for graduating Apaches to not only celebrate their year and public school career, but as a way to keep teenagers off the roads and under the lockdown of a safe environment. As of late, that location was the Disciples Conference Center, where the newly ex-students would gather for a full night of swimming, games, and chances to win cash prizes. But, that looks to be coming to an end if another group fails to take over the tradition.
“About the same number of people have to do it every year,” said Nancy Logan, president of the Gonzales Pilots Club, the organization that has been in charge of the affair. It's not really that she's tired of spending a night with young adults that could pass for her grandkids. Rather, the Pilot Club has a group that finds themselves past their prime in ability to cart around heavy ice chests and gear needed to set up an event for over 100 teens and chaperones. Not enough young hands populate the club to be able to pass the torch to, so Logan says they are desperately looking for someone to take the grads by the horns.
Logan said that it hurts her to think that the event will cease, but she is physically unable to continue the job. Finding available volunteers on Memorial Day Weekend plus those willing to stay up until the sun rises is also a factor inhibiting their continuation.
The Gonzales version of Project Graduation began 18 years ago when Logan attended a Lockhart Lion football game and noticed parents fundraising for their own event. Inspired, she brought the idea back to the Pilot Club and they gave it a go. For the past 13 years, GHS educator Jami Owens has been a part of helping guide the event as well. Though both women have since seen their children pass through the halls, they have stayed involved because of the good it brings the community.
“I believe it is vital to the safety of our graduates,” Owens said. “It offers a safe haven for graduation night. It offers one last chance to be together as a class, to celebrate their success and look toward the future.”
And it is about providing a safe space for celebration, she added, for no parent should have to remember their child's graduation and passing on the same day.
GHS usually has at least two-thirds of its graduates at Project Graduation, and many of them bring a friend. A good portion of the time that friend is an underclassmen who always comments how much they look forward to being able to come as a senior, Owens explained. She believes the students look forward to the activity each year.
“We have really great kids in our area,” Owens continued. “Most of them make good choices and decisions. Project Graduations helps those that might be on the fence make the right decision about appropriate behavior on one of the most important nights of their lives. Without Project Graduation, I'm afraid we will have kids making poor decisions that result in permanent consequences.”
Logan said that it takes about $10,000-12,000 to stage the event, with all of the donations coming from local businesses, groups, and individuals. Students have the chance to win gift cards up to $500 and each will walk out with at least $50. She said that they give every penny that they can to the kids and use the rest for renting the venue, drinks, food, and entertainment. Only about $1,500 remains unspent to be used as seed money for the next year. Luckily, the Pilot Club has some cash left over from last year to help get the ball rolling should someone step forward. Plus, Logan promised that the club would be there to answer any questions and provide deep knowledge for a successor.
“We would certainly be there for them,” she said. All it takes is someone who is good at planning, lifting heavy objects like coolers and roasters, has common sense, and likes kids.
“The community is already behind it,” she said.
As for the institutional knowledge provided by Owens, Logan said that they simply could not have done it all these years without her organized assistance.
“She's with us all night long,” she said.
For her part, Owens said that she could get the volunteers for the evening, but being a busy teacher already takes all spare time that she has which prevents her from fundraising and location logistics. But, she doesn't think that it's too late to get it going.
“The Pilots worked tirelessly seeking donations, preparing activities, securing the location, arranging for food, getting volunteers, and arranging security for this event — all while still carrying on the rest of the business of their club,” Owens said. “I admire all the work they do within the community, but they can only do so much. I appreciate all they have done for GHS and our graduates over the years, they are an amazing group of ladies.
Logan, who laughed at being called the “Project Graduation Emeritus,” said that she would be happy to field calls from those wanting to learn more. She can be reached at 830-672-6934.