The parents of Conard’s graduating class of 2017 worked the entire school year to put together a night of fun and safe activities for the new graduates inside the walls of West Hartford’s Conard High School.
By Jackie Palermo
The class of 2017 took a trip down “memory lane” after graduation as they walked down Conard’s main hallway, which was disguised as a road, lined with painted houses and yard games against every wall.
In previous years, a section of the post-graduation event called “Memory Lane” – a collection of all the senior photos, along with a collage of baby pictures, pictures of friends, and fun memories – is not released or seen until the night of Safe Grad. But this year’s Safe Grad Chair, Renee Hartshorn, explained that they left this hallway open the day of graduation “so that kids would look at it and get excited about Safe Grad without it giving away the theme.” Ironically, this memory lane, marked with a green street sign, fits perfectly with the theme of neighborhood block party.
Just hours after the commencement ceremony ended, the newly-minted graduates of Conard High School stepped into the main entrance of the building at 10 p.m. Thursday and most stay until 5 a.m. Friday. The purpose of this night is to give the grads a night of enjoyment in the company of their friends and their peers, before they each begin next steps of their lives. All are invited and there is no cost to attend.
From 10 p.m. through 2 a.m. in the cafeteria, tables were lined with games and activities including dancing, karaoke, ping pong, a game show competition, arts and crafts, and a [temporary] tattoo shop. All the food was donated and brought to the school by junior parent volunteers.
The “Main Street” was decorated with painted trees, shrubs, real picket fences, and unique houses in the style of many West Hartford homes. In front of each house stood giant versions of beloved childhood games including Giant Corn Hole, Lawn Bowling, Kerplunk, Giant Jenga, Hopscotch, Cash Cab, and Minute to Win It. For those who needed a break, there was also a cozy quiet area with blankets, lawn chairs, lights, and checkers.
Many of the giant games – which the students could play – were homemade and constructed by the parents.
Inside the Main Gym, there was a photo booth, cash cube, and bouncers. Next door in the Auxiliary Gym were arcade games and a Corn Hole tournament for kids to compete against their friends.
Promptly at 2 a.m., students were ushered into the Auditorium, where a hypnotist performed, and amazing raffle prizes were given out – including televisions and Beats headphones.
Finally, at the end of a tiring and fun-filled night, students received breakfast, also donated, before heading home.
Hartshorn told we-ha.com that this night is planned more than a year in advance. She said she went to Safe Grad last year to see how it ran and to “map out a strategy for this year.”
Making sure that parents know where to be and what to do is necessary to make the night run smoothly, Hartshorn said. “That’s the piece that is the most important.”
There are 14 committees and more than 200 volunteer slots on the night of the event alone. Hartshorn explained that “it’s stressful but it’s worth it in the end, even though we work a ridiculous amount of hours.”
Hartshorn thanked and praised all the committees and volunteers for their support and hard work, but was especially grateful to the decoration committee who had been working since November painting and creatively transforming materials to make beautiful decorations for the students.
“They work the hardest the entire year,” Hartshorn said. Every Monday and Tuesday the volunteers worked, storing the decor in the basement of St. Mark’s Church on South Quaker Lane, and trying to reuse as much material as possible from the previous years.
A huge part of of Safe Grad is the fundraising that takes place all year to afford the prizes and materials needed to make the event so notoriously fantastic. Safe Grad committees like the flocking committee and the sign committee work tirelessly to raise money for the event. Every fall, volunteers run the Parents Night Out fundraiser, which is “one of the biggest fundraising events of the year.” It includes a silent auction, a live auction, and a raffle, with businesses generously donating.
This year’s Parents Night Out event raised approximately $4,000 for Safe Grad, Hartshorn told we-ha.com.
She also explained, “We are incredibly grateful to Moe’s” in Bishop’s Corner for donating 100 percent of their proceeds to support Safe Grad during a special event the night before they opened. That event alone raised around $3,000.
This year’s Safe Grad was a huge success, and continues to raise the bar, Hartshorn said – all thanks to the wonderful volunteers and donations.
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