It was a record-setting year for Project Graduation, which gave students a safe environment to celebrate the achievement of a high school diploma.
McMinnville Civic Center was overflowing with excitement as high school graduates and their guests partied deep into Friday night and well into Saturday morning.
“I think I got out of there Saturday morning around 8 a.m.,” said Project Graduation chair Paula Wanamaker. “The kids had to stay until 4 a.m. or they forfeited their prizes. To my knowledge, no one checked out before 4 a.m.”
Wanamaker said a record-setting fundraising year resulted in over $80,000 to be spent on the annual event, which she says is the most in its 30-year history. That included a $6,000 donation from Kidd Ford made the week leading up to Project Graduation for a Drive One 4UR School promotion held in March.
The money allowed seniors to be showered with gifts. Among the prizes given away were 32-inch TVs, Dell computers, iPads, mini refrigerators, and 10 four-day passes to Bonnaroo.
“The kids went nuts over the Bonnaroo tickets and the cash prizes,” said Wanamaker.
Graduating seniors were admitted free, but the cost was $10 if they brought a guest. Guest admission generated $1,100, which was given away as 11 cash prizes of $100.
“We had so much stuff we were walking the halls giving it away to anyone who was still there at the end,” said Wanamaker. “We want to thank the community for supporting us the way they did.”
The night was filled with the traditional games which have become Project Graduation favorites. This included sumo wrestling in giant suits, and the joust where participants whack each other with padded weapons which are soft but can still deliver a hard shot. Large tricycles provided an enjoyable diversion to accompany other inflatable games.
Linda Blair was in charge of the concession room which offered a cornucopia of free food such as pizza, burgers and wings. Area restaurants donated food throughout the night and into the morning to make sure everything was fresh.
Wanamaker is one of many parents who will see their child attend college next year. Her son, Salem Wanamaker, has received a scholarship to attend ETSU.
“Mom’s not as excited about that as he is because it’s so far away,” said Paula. “He wants to become a plastic surgeon.”
Paula said a number of parents worked hard throughout the year to make Project Graduation a reality. She said the group that really put in long hours down the stretch included Mitzi Ramsey, Renea Bess, Cindy Smith, Jennifer van Vuren, Lindsey Greene Bell, Lisa Miller, Lucretia Brown and Twan Majors. She said a number of dads pitched in to provide some much-needed man power, too many to name.