Project Graduation on horizon for seniors as alternative to drinking, driving


ABILENE, Texas - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did a study about high school students during a one-month period.

The CDC found 39 percent admitted to drinking some amount of alcohol, 22 percent said they binge drank, 8 percent admitted they drove after drinking alcohol, and 24 percent said they rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.

Those numbers are exactly why Project Graduation for high school seniors exists.

"Historically it's been a very dangerous time for kids in that they tend to do stupid things. It's their last night together," said Kym Martin of Wylie High School's Project Graduation.

Graduation ceremonies - with Projection Graduation activities following - are scheduled for local high schools this weekend.

"It's kind of a lockdown, so that they can't go out and drive drunk and be stupid at parties. We want to keep them safe," Martin said. "We work all year long on this, and it's not just one parent or five parents. I mean it takes a lot of parents to do it."

"We give away scholarships at Project Graduation and prizes and all sorts of things to help the kids. Traditionally we've gotten a huge participation rate. I want to say like 90 to 95 percent participation rate."

Abilene Police Department officer Joshua Ward, who is involved with Abilene High School's Project Graduation, said teen drinking and driving is an unfortunate reality locally.

"It's one of the harder parts of the job, whenever you see incidents where teens are drinking and driving. More often than not it ends up in accidents and those accidents end up in tragedies," Ward said.

"That's why we have Project Graduation. They have the opportunity to get prizes on an hourly basis. The longer they stay the better the prizes get. Towards the end of the night we're giving away flat screen TVs, refrigerators, a lot of things that graduates are gonna need their freshman year of college. And the longer you stay, the bigger your prize."

Ward said he understand being a senior is a "very prideful time in your life," while it is also the time "you need to start making decisions."

"These decisions you make are going to affect the rest of your life, your career, your education, and your future families," Ward said. "Every decision you make now will come back five, 10 years down the road and you'll have to answer for those."

That's something Shawn Kennedy knows all too well.

"In 2006 our son, Bryce, was killed in an accident that was alcohol-related," Kennedy said. "He was 19 and home from college for the weekend. It was a really hard deal."

In 2007, she said her husband was asked to speak at a Shattered Dreams Program in Hawley.

"We felt like that was the calling," Kennedy said. "Project Graduation is one of those things we felt like we could reach out and say 'hey you're making a right choice.'

"You're not invincible. Something can happen to you. It can happen to anybody. It doesn't matter who you are or what your background is. It can happen to you or to your friends."

"It's hard, you know, Bryce's friends are home from college now and getting married and having families," she said. "Missing out on all of the firsts is the hardest thing like when we had a new grandbaby and Bryce wasn't here or the first Christmas without him or the first Mother's Day or the first picture you look at and think 'where is he?' and realize he wasn't there to begin with.

"Even though you think you are untouchable, unstoppable, nothing's gonna happen to you, it can. It can happen to you, it could happen to your friends. It's all about decisions and decisions you make today can (impact) you forever."

Project Graduation is a yearlong effort. Fundraising and planning begins just after they wrap up from graduation night. If you want to get involved with donations or volunteering, please call your child's high school administration office.