After graduation, Columbia seniors party all night — safely

Sunday, May 31, 2009 | 4:16 p.m. CDT; updated 5:58 p.m. CDT, Sunday, May 31, 2009
Atlande Guajardo, left, beats out his friend Garth Kirkham for a prize of $1,000 in fake money Saturday at the All-Night Senior Party held at Hearnes Center. Students were given $20,000 in fake money to start and could increase their funds by playing bingo, gambling at the "casino" or competing in activities.

COLUMBIA — Graduation Day ended with a bang for the newest batch of Columbia high school alums Saturday night, many of whom got to leave Hearnes Center with prizes including trendy dorm decor and expensive laptops.

The All-Night Senior Party brought about 800 new graduates together to enjoy gambling, eating, pampering and playing. The party, which went from 11 p.m. Saturday until 5 a.m. Sunday, included former students of Hickman High School, Rock Bridge High School and Douglass High School, as well as home-schooled students.

Tickets were $20 in advance and $25 at the door, but many, including Rock Bridge graduate Tyler Cacek, thought it was worth the price.

“You’re really getting a lot for your money because there’s a lot of free stuff and prizes,” Cacek said.

Parent volunteer Kate Harry said they were able to give the prizes because of the cash donations totaling about $20,000 from Columbia professionals and parents, as well as item donations by stores around the city.

Despite the generosity from the Columbia community, parent volunteer Angie Schaal said the weak economy affected the amount earned.

“We raised $7,000 less than last year, which is a sign of the times; so we had to get more bang for our buck,” Schaal said.

Parent volunteer Jackie Thompson said the event has been an entirely parent-supported tradition for 53 years and helps fulfill one main goal.

“It can be a dangerous night," Thompson said. "So the primary focus is to keep them safe."

To ensure safety at the event and on the roads, the graduates sign in and receive wristbands when they enter; they are not allowed back into the event once they leave.

Not only does it keep them out of trouble, but it also provides a night full of fun. Rock Bridge graduate Connor Stangler, who said he enjoyed the blackjack and bingo activities, decided to come because he heard positive things about the party from previous years.

“It transcends anything else I’d be doing on a Saturday night,” Stangler said. “There is no better way to end a senior year.”

Hickman High School graduates Adriana Gonzalez and Caroline Pitchford took advantage of the free hair salon and airbrush tattoo parlor, ending up with jewels and feathers in their hair.

Like many in attendance, Gonzalez said she decided to come to see her friends.

“This is the last chance to get together and see everybody from other schools who you haven’t seen in a while," Gonzalez said. "So why not come?”

Overall, Harry said the turnout was excellent, and the involvement of more than 300 parent volunteers throughout the night demonstrates the support graduates receive from the community.

“It’s a good healthy way for the community to congratulate them for graduating high school,” Harry said.

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