Graduation parties can be safe, sober, affairs

The end of a high school career is a great cause for celebration, and students who achieve this rite of passage deserve to be honored for a job well done. Seniors eagerly look forward to the next phase of their lives as they prepare for college or full-time jobs. Unfortunately, too many young lives are lost instead of launched when new graduates jeopardize their bright futures by getting into cars when they are intoxicated.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half of all fatal traffic crashes on typical prom and graduation weekends involve alcohol. Also, the NHTSA reports that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people 15 to 20 years old.

A recent survey by Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Chrysler Group found that 45 percent of 16- to 18-year-olds report feeling pressure to drink and drive or ride with someone who has been drinking. Many schools, parents and communities throughout the country are doing their best to reverse that peer pressure and make sure that this yearís graduations will be safe and memorable experiences for everyone.

Roseville Area High School has approximately 500 students in its ‘05 graduating class, and if this year is like other years, 85 percent of its seniors will attend the all-night party that follows the commencement ceremonies.

"There are so many different and fun activities all night long," said Olivia Gault, one of the parent volunteers. "We have a casino, sumo wrestling with inflatable suits, an obstacle course, and many other attractions" Gault said that students earn fake money in the competitions that they can exchange for prizes — an enticement that gets more kids involved.

To keep the event affordable, Roseville parents garner support from local businesses and organizations that donate prizes and food. They explain to these donors that graduation and prom can be the two deadliest weekends in a teenagerís life and how they are striving to thwart those statistics by supporting the tradition of the alcohol-free senior party. The community’s response has been generous.

Communities that want to provide safe and sober graduation parties like Roseville’s need not start from scratch in planning such an event. Many organizations have developed extensive materials to guide them.

For example, Students Against Destructive Decisions has a 52-page "All-Night Party Event Organizer" available on their Web site ( that walks people through each stage of planning a substance-free party, from organizing committees and working with local law enforcement to asking for donations and sending out press releases, letters and other announcements.

Other organizations such as the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center offer low-cost materials that promote healthy behaviors and offer tips for parents on why and how they can promote safe and sober graduation parties.

"Graduation is one of those milestones everyone can relate to, and we want the memories to be happy, substance-free ones," said Kevin Spading, the Center’s project director. "Our goal is to keep accurate, informative prevention messages in the forefront. Our prevention messages are effective because they are comprehensive, consistent, evidence-based, and focus-group tested."

Another effective way to deter teens from driving drunk is to have them listen to someone whose life has been forever changed because a drunk driver killed someone they loved. Jo Baker, the Victim Impact Coordinator for Minnesota’s MADD, recently told 300 young people about how her son Brad was killed by a drunk driver, a former classmate of Brad’s whose picture just happened to appear on the same page of Brad’s high school yearbook.

"You could have heard a pin drop in that room," said Baker. "Every Mother’s Day Brad gave me a flower. I’ll never get another rose from him. I’ll never see him come through our door or look into his beautiful eyes. I don’t want other families to experience this devastation. If I can keep one person from getting behind a wheel drunk, I will have honored his life."

For more information and materials on prevention, visit the MADD Web site at, the Minnesota Prevention Resource Center at, or Hazelden Publishing at

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