PEMBROKE — There’s no party like a school-sponsored party.
From giant inflatable houses, to a DJ spinning dance tracks, to the chance to be thrown from a mechanical bull and a photo booth to commemorate the occasion, the Public Schools of Robeson County knows how to throw a shindig.
The annual post-commencement bash, Project Graduation, is expected to bring more than 800 graduates from Robeson’s seven high schools to The University of North Carolina at Pembroke for a seven-hour party that begins tonight and lasts until Saturday’s early morning hours.
Now in it’s 25th year, the program was created to keep graduates safe on a night when they might otherwise be participating in unsafe behaviors — and it’s working. No alcohol is allowed.
“A student was killed 26 years ago, and we haven’t lost another since we started the program, so yeah, do the math,” Rebecca Ward, safe schools coordinator for Robeson County Public Schools, said. “I would give credit to the event for that.”
Graduates will arrive by school bus to UNCP’s campus at about 8 p.m., when they will be fed a meal of hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken with all the fixings as prepared by the county’s cafeteria staff. Until midnight, students can take turns on the dance floor in the University Center Annex, bowl in the James B. Chavis University Center, or hop inside a giant inflatable game in the Jones Health and Physical Education Center.
At midnight, the festivities will move to Givens Performing Arts Center, where students will be entertained with a hypnotist and have a chance to win prizes such as televisions, iPods and Kindle Fires — and one of seven scholarships provided by the United Way. At 3 a.m., students will be taken back to their respective high schools by bus.
Much of the event, which can cost more than $40,000, is sponsored by donations from the community, Ward said. The public school system steps in to make up the difference.
The main fundraiser for the event is a gala during which a singer from each school competes in the “Robeson Idol” contest. This year’s gala raised about $37,000, Ward said.
T-shirts for this year’s event, sponsored by Locklear, Jacobs, Hunt and Brooks, a Lumberton and Pembroke law firm, and Caring Touch Home and Behavioral Health Care in Pembroke, are white and gray and boast the artwork of a Fairmont High School student Matthew Joseph. Anyone not wearing a shirt will not be allowed inside the designated party area at UNCP, which the university has provided for free.
“We have many school resource officers, detectives from the Sheriff’s Department and officers from the Lumberton Police Department which assist us in keeping the public out and our students in,” Ward said, adding that in the five years she has coordinated Project Graduation she has not heard of any issues arising.
Ward said she has also never heard a complaint.
“Everybody loves it,” she said. “The students are elated after they see all that is offered for them to enjoy.”