Joanne Fairweather recalls that when she chaperoned C. Milton Wright High School's graduation cruise aboard the Lady Baltimore last spring, she believed it could become a new school tradition, stressing fun without alcohol or drug use.
So the day after the event, Fairweather booked the ship for the 1992 graduation party.
She knew the 1992 graduates would come.
And they are. A majority of of C. Milton Wright High School's graduating class signed up to attend the June 5 outing.
PTC The event, which again will stress party fun without drugs or alcohol, is part of a trend among county high schools.
At least five of the county's 11 high schools will conduct graduation parties this spring with themes stressing celebration without imbibing in drugs or alcohol before, during or after the event. And others are passing the message in their schools that graduation celebrations that include alcohol and drugs are risky business.
C. Milton Wright's grads will be joined in Baltimore's Inner Harbor on June 5 by Joppatowne High's class of '92, which will be cruising alongside aboard another party boat. Graduates of Fallston, Edgewood, and North Harford also are planning events this spring with an emphasis on getting grads to celebrate sans alcohol and drugs.
Fallston is sponsoring a post-graduation cruise on the Lady Baltimore, while Edgewood will have a party at an area youth center. North Harford will throw a party at a private campground.
The evening on the water for Wright's graduates includes dinner and dancing -- but it's restricted to students who have signed pledges to be chemical-free during the 24-hour graduation and party period.
The pledge also includes promising not to ride in a car with someone who has used alcohol or drugs during that time.
Other schools have adopted this pledge program. So far, about 60 percent of those graduates planning to attend Wright's cruise have signed the pledges, organizers said.
"It's an attempt to steer students away from party-hopping on graduation night and to change the way they view having a good time. It's more than just a party," said Fairweather, chairperson for Parents for Project Graduation '92.
Some county high schools unable to organize special graduation events that stress celebrations without drug or alcohol use are looking to do so in the future.
For example, Bel Air High Principal Bill Ekey says he would have liked to have seen a similar celebration at his school, but money was a problem.
However, Ekey is confident Bel Air will join the trend next year.
At Edgewood, which suffered four student deaths this past year in two separate car accidents, Assistant Principal William Loper says the school community can't bear another tragedy.
"Although none of the deaths of our students were alcohol-related, parents have expressed concern and are seeking ways to keep the kids off the roads [at graduation time]," he said.
Organizing substance-free parties is one thing. But will students really abide by their promises?
Wright senior Brian Forney believes some may not.
"They will find ways to drink. There's always people who do it," he said.
Amy Mahan, a senior and member of Students Against Drunk Driving chapter at Wright, disagrees.
"I think that the students who signed the contract are going to stick to it," she said. "I know a few people who didn't sign it, because there would be no drinking there. It's to those people that the lack of alcohol is important."
The attempt to initiate the trend has not come without a price. The average cost of a chemical-free cruise is $10,000. But the schools have had no trouble finding support. Parental support and fund-raising events -- such as bake sales, carwashes, and raffles -- have been the keys to successful parties, say organizers.
And schools organizing the events also have found broad support in the community.
Several schools have received donations from area businesses, churches, and civic organizations to help pay for their special events.
"The community needs to see that there are teen-agers concerned about the drinking-and-driving problem," Fairweather said.
High School Graduations
SCHOOL .. .. DATE ..TIME .. ..SPEAKER
DAberdeen .. .. .. June 5 6:30 p.m. Irvin Pankey, Indianapolis Colts
Bel Air .. .. .. .June 4 6:15 p.m. Louis Goldstein, former state treasurer
C. M. Wright .. ..June 5 6:30 p.m. Shaila A. Aery, Sec. of Higher Education
Edgewood .. .. .. June 3 6:30 p.m. Carl Roberts, Exec. Dir. of Secondary Education
Fallston .. .. .. June 3 6:30 p.m. Kevin Cowherd, Columnist/ Baltimore Sun
Harford Tech. .. .June 3 6:30 p.m. Curtis Stovall, Balto. Delegate
Havre de Grace .. June 4 7 p.m. .. Dr. Jon Andes, Asst. Supt. for Personnel
John Carroll .. ..May 24 11 a.m. ..School valedictorian
Joppatowne .. .. .June 5 6:30 p.m. Larry Wayne, C. M. Wright
N. Harford .. .. .June 4 6:30 p.m. Michael Hooker, Chancellor UMBC