2017-11-24 / Front Page

Seniors planning sweet celebration

By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Members of the Kennebunk High School Class of 2018 who will staff the Sugar Shack in Lower Village during the annual Christmas Prelude celebration include, from left, Britney Gregoire, of Arundel, Forrest Robie of Kennebunk, Lindsey Gregoire of Arundel and Kellie Ryan of Kennebunkport. The store, normally closed for the season, will open with the seniors in charge, with all sales to benefit next year’s Project Graduation celebration. (Duke Harrington photo) Members of the Kennebunk High School Class of 2018 who will staff the Sugar Shack in Lower Village during the annual Christmas Prelude celebration include, from left, Britney Gregoire, of Arundel, Forrest Robie of Kennebunk, Lindsey Gregoire of Arundel and Kellie Ryan of Kennebunkport. The store, normally closed for the season, will open with the seniors in charge, with all sales to benefit next year’s Project Graduation celebration. (Duke Harrington photo) KENNEBUNK — The senior class at Kennebunk High School has hit upon a sweet way to help pay for next year’s Project Graduation celebration, and it happens six months before commencement, at the annual Christmas Prelude extravaganza.

Usually at that time, when historic Lower Village in Kennebunk and Dock Square, across the river in Kennebunkport, come alive for the arrival of Santa Claus and the lighting of the community Christmas tree, the Sugar Shack, located at 17 Western Ave., is closed for the season. But Glenn Robie, one of the parents who staffs the Project Graduation committee, says store owners Steve and Jeni Kingston, who also own the Clam Shack, agreed to let the seniors take over their store for the two weekends of the 36th annual Prelude festival, which kicks off Dec. 1.

“It’s opening specifically for Prelude,” Robie said. “The Kingstons are allowing the class to open it up and sell the candy they have inside. We’re certainly reimbursing them for their costs, but all other proceeds will go toward the project.”

Robie said the Project Graduation committee is currently “about halfway” to its funding goal, between $10,000 and $15,000, much of it raised by the students themselves.

“Project Graduation is a safe alternative to traditional graduation parties,” said another committee member, Deanna Enis. “This event is worked on by parents [with the destination] unbeknownst to the students. The students are whisked away after graduation onto a one-of-a-kind adventure that lasts through the wee hours of the morning. It’s a great, safe option that allows the students to create lasting memories and spend what may be the last time with the classmates before they set off into adulthood.”

“I think our class works really hard to fundraise for this because it’s really important to us,” said senior Kellie Ryan, of Kennebunkport, noting the senior cabaret, a halloween haunted maze and homecoming events already staged. “It’s our one last get-together, one last hurrah.”

“Everybody wants to be involved in something that’s special,” said senior Lindsey Gregoire, of Arundel, predicting participation from the entire class, about 180 strong.

“It’s become a tradition to do this all together as one group,” said senior Forrest Robie of Kennebunk. “Our class, we don’t usually do these big get-togethers often, so this is our one last time to do that.”

“It’s kind of important to have that one last hurrah with your class before everyone goes their separate way to college and stuff,” Britney Gregoire said.

The fact that all four seniors interviewed about the Prelude candy sale focused on class bonding and the once-in-a-lifetime experience of Project Graduation, and not the reason it was founded, speaks to the lasting success of the initiative, as well as the cultural shift it helped forge in the way seniors view their rite-of-passage.

Although it is now a national movement with similar programs at nearly every high school in all 50 states, Project Graduation was born just 37 years ago in western Maine at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School.

At that time, the preferred method among seniors for celebrating graduation was not joining on a bus to a fantastic getaway experience, or even together at a local arcade and dance hall, but divided into distinct cliques, traveling in separate cars for a beer bash at a sand pit, lakeside camp or wooded bonfire.

The fact that a few students got killed or injured each year in graduation-related drunk driving accidents seemed one of those facts of life nobody liked to contemplate, but which defied solution.

Then came graduation season in 1979, when, between April and June, 18 teens lost their lives across Maine in alcohol-or-drug-related incidents.

Nine of those students were killed in four separate car crashes. Four died between April 4 and May 21 in three separate crashes in the Oxford Hills town of Norway. Another five died in a crash in nearby Locke Mills, when an 18-year-old later charged with operating under the influence, turned off of Route 26 onto the Greenwood Road, missing a bridge there and plunging his two-door hatchback down a 6-foot embankment into the stream below, where it came to rest in 10 feet of water. One of his passengers was thrown from the car, the other four, ranging in age from 15 to 17, drowned inside the vehicle. Only the driver survived.

In a 2009 interview with the Advertiser Democrat newspaper, Laurie Wiacek, who was vice president of the OHCHS Project Graduation committee at the time, but has been a student at Telstar High School where four of the deceased teens were students, said there was one additional victim to the five killed at the scene.

“Actually, it was six, because one of the girls was pregnant,” she said.

Even before the deadly summer of 1979, the wheels were in motion to combat the spate of teen deaths that came as a result of underage drinking and driving. Beginning in 1978, the Maine Department of Education, in cooperation with the Bureau of Public Safety, began sponsoring an intense 11-day live-in program designed to offer training on ways to steer teens away from drug and alcohol abuse.

Five Oxford Hills communities sent a team through that training, a group of folks who later became the core of the Drug and Alcohol Team of the Oxford Hills. In addition to disseminating information to area teens about the dangers of drinking and driving, the group sponsored a chem-free graduation party at the Oxford Fairgrounds. That event, dubbed Project Graduation by the group, was held on June 14, 1980.

By 1986, the concept had spread to not only 98 percent of all Maine high schools, but all 50 states and two Canadian provinces.

Since then, Project Graduation has become such an ingrained part of the American cultural landscape that the reason it was formed has become almost secondary to its modern purpose. Today, it’s less about saving lives, than creating life-long memories.

Robie said the parents on the Kennebunk High School Project Graduation committee have yet to settle on where next year’s adventure will be for the Class of 2018. A lot depends on how much money is raised.

“There are lots of opportunities we are exploring, It’s going to be really special time,” he said.

And, if more money is raised than ultimately is needed, the surplus will find its way back into the community as a show of thanks, Robie added.

“If we reach our goal there is a lot of interest in providing some that may come back to the community in some way, donated to a nonprofit or some other organization, so that it goes to somebody who may have some need,” he said.

First up, however, is selling enough candy to pay for the trip and each student has their own idea of what will sell the best, in addition to the hot chocolate and cider.

“The sour rainbow strips, those are my favorite,” Lindsey Gregoire said.

“I like the bueno bar, which is a hazelnut chocolate bar that is to die for. I just love it,” Ryan said.

The seniors also will be circulating among the Prelude crowds, handing out $2 coupons for another special item — a $20 Prelude Survival Kit.

“They’re goodie bags filled with lots of fun things like hand warmers, Christmas ornaments, and flashing, glowing things that will be fun for people to wear during the various events,” Robie said. “They are here exclusively. Folks will have so much fun coming down and helping these kids.”

Sweat treat times

The Kennebunk High School class of 2018 will staff the Sugar Shack in Lower Village to raise money for their upcoming Project Graduation celebration, designed to provide seniors with a safe, chem-free venue on the night of their commencement to celebrate one last time together as a class. The store will be open on the following days:

• Friday, Dec. 1, 3 to 7 p.m.

• Saturday, Dec. 2, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Sunday, Dec. 3, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• Friday, Dec. 8, 3 to 7 p.m. (if supplies allow)

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