How do you keep several hundred seniors clean and sober on graduation night?
Put them on a boat with no alcohol or other drugs and send it out to sea.
That was the strategy behind floating parties on the Chesapeake Bay Thursday sponsored by two county high schools.
At C. Milton Wright High School, the Parents Teachers Students Organization helped monopolize most graduates for the entire night, allowing them little opportunity to indulge in the tradition of getting drunk or stoned.
The school's commencement was scheduled to run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., leaving students only an hour to go home, change clothes and come back in time to board a bus for the Annapolis City dock, where the Harbor Queen awaited their arrival.
Then, 181 of Wright's 270 graduating seniors, each of whom had signed a pledge to stay drug- and alcohol-free for those 24 hours, planned to party the night away at a water-borne dinner dance before getting back on the buses for a 4 a.m. breakfast in the school's cafeteria.
Interest in the $15 cruise -- despite a prohibition against bringing dates -- reflects heightened awareness of the dangers of alcohol and other drugs, said Sharon Durham, president of Wright's Students Against Drunk Driving chapter.
"From when I was in the ninth grade to the 11th grade, I think there's been a change in attitudes," she said.
The bay cruise is a first for Wright and marks something of a resurgence for the school's SADD chapter, which had all but died out last year due to lack of interest.
After student leaders complained last May that SADD was denied official support, the Board of Education redoubled formal education andpeer counseling programs, said Sue Henry, coordinator of the county Drug Alcohol Impact Program.
"That also bespeaks parental involvement, which also had been lacking," she said.
Wright's campaign against drinking and driving is modeled after a program launched last year at Joppatowne High School, where 152 of 156 graduating seniors signed up for their own drug- and alcohol-free cruise Thursday on the Lady Baltimore out of the Inner Harbor.
"All this started because the state police sent out a bulletin two years ago that said graduationnight had surpassed prom night as the deadliest night," Joppatowne Assistant Principal Tom Ackerman said Wednesday.
Schools across thecounty campaign against drug and alcohol abuse throughout the year.
During the height of the drinking and driving season -- from the prom to graduation -- SADD members in many schools paint their faces white to represent fatalities and do not speak or respond to classmates.
The morality mime is well received by students, as are visits from judges, drug counselors, police agencies and shock trauma units, each bearing gruesome slides of accident victims, Durham said. "They don't laugh it off. They take it very seriously," she said.
The county boosted Wright's anti-drug program with a $4,000 grant from the state Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration. The money was used to help support the $10,000 cruise and the school's ongoing drug and alcohol education efforts.
The county drug program also helped Joppatowne inaugurate its bay cruise last year. The school's own fund-raisingcampaign underwrote the entire cost this year. Donations from the Joppatowne Lion's Club, Midway Liquors and others helped allow the entire senior class to join the trip for free.
Both Wright and Joppatowne built up savings in their anti-drug programs to help the 1991 junior class keep rolling next year. Joppatowne hopes also to organize asupervised party for prom night. "It would be nice to cover them forever," Ackerman said. "But right now, our main concern is safety and that little lesson thatyou can have fun without drugs and alcohol."
Parents and school officials know they can't always keep the county's graduates dry once they come back from the bay, especially when somany head straight for Ocean City for a week of celebration.
Among the resort-bound graduates was Julie Henry, one of the students whocomplained to the school board last year about lack of support. She was not involved in organizing the bay cruise, but she was recognizedby the county's Joint Narcotics Task Force for her anti-drug work helping fellow students in the Wright peer counseling program.
Julie's mother, Sue Henry, said, "Her mother is absolutely opposed to the Ocean City adventure.
It's bad timing. The kids feel absolutely immortal at that point, and there's no limits on their behavior.
"But my daughter is going. She's 18 and an adult. Fortunately, she's hada good environment. She's a good kid and she hangs with good kids."
Just in case, though, the state police have sent all county graduates a letter wishing them a nice summer and warning them not to drinkand drive.
igh schools, Joppatowne and C. Milton Wright, sponsored after-graduation parties on Inner Harbor cruise boats Thursday night. The intent was to provide a drug- and alcohol-free celebration.