Why Do We Do This? by Robert T. Smith (Star Tribune, 1982)
Her name was Sharon and I remember her. I remember that she was lively and pretty and friendly and looking forward to the future.
I remember her dead. She was a senior in high school when I was a junior. She went to a post-graduation party - the one where there was drinking and smoking and talking smart. On the way home, the boy she was with couldn’t handle the car very well. It crashed into a tree.
Well, Shakopee High School has done something to try to save its students from such a fate. Some background…
For one boy, Shakopee High had been a bummer. He hadn’t done well, but he got through. He’d hadn’t been popular and did not take part in extracurricular activities.
But that boy maintains he never will forget one part of his high school career: the last night. “It was the best time I ever had in my life,” he said.
That was three years ago, when the first special graduation party was held for the students of Shakopee. It has now become a community affair.
It was the idea of some parents and others concerned about graduation parties that ended up in drinking and often driving, and sometimes death. But that was only one motivation. The other, and the reason why it is so successful, is that the instigators wanted the kids to have the best time ever.
First, they decided to make the theme of the party a secret. The one three years ago turned out to be based on “Star Wars.” Then came “Arabian Nights” and “Gold Rush Days.” All the elaborate decorations enunciate the theme. The first year they hoped maybe they’d attract about 150 students. Which was not all the students. Well, 153 came.
Last year 95 percent of the seniors showed up. They anxiously waited in line to get locked into Shakopee Junior High, where the party is held. There are some rules: no drinking booze, nobody gets in after the doors are locked (about 45 minutes after graduation ceremonies and no one leaves until 6am.
No parents are allowed except those who are willing to work and to mind their own business. No one is there to tell the kids what to do. The all-nighter includes dancing to a live band, swimming, a carnival, a casino with blackjack, craps and roulette, an obstacle course for the athletic, other events and food – lots of food.
The students spend no money. They use chips for gambling, for instance. There is a final auction where a student can win anything from a cheap ruler to a television set to $300. It’s all financed by the community, including Shakopee merchants and corporations and service clubs. Thousands of hours of volunteer work are involved.
It does not cost the school anything, which in these days of financial troubles in education is a welcome thought.
The are two special fund-raisers for this year’s party:
The Shakopee House will give half of every dollar spent in the bar-restaurant from 3pm to 1am on April 5. That way you can eat and drink and donate also. Before the season opens for the Valleyfair amusement park, 30 Shakopee parents a day will work to get the park in shape. They will get minimum wage plus 50 cents and hour bonus, and all the money goes to the graduation party.
They expect an almost 100 percent turnout this year. And they know that none of the students who show up will end up like Sharon.
Dead at 17 plus.
Star Tribune, 1982