DOWNEY — It was a time to remember. A party that lasted all night. "A Cruise in the Caribbean," as it was called, that docked, not at some exotic port but outside the gymnasium at Warren High School.
Wednesday's Grad Nite at Warren was more than the usual rite of passage for graduating seniors, who are notorious for staying out late, dancing and drinking to celebrate the end of 12 years of mandatory education.
Warren High School graduates danced and stayed out late Wednesday night, but there was no drinking.
About 80 parents went to great lengths to show the graduates that they could have fun without booze. The parents, with the help of service clubs, community organizations and residents who liked the idea, donated time, energy and about $20,000 to get the message across.
"It was just wonderful," said Sharon Ballard, who co-chaired Warren's first Grad Nite. "Everybody was so positive. It was one of the most positive experiences of my life; the camaraderie of the parents, people working together . . . and the reaction when the kids walked in . . . their faces were just wonderful."
Cheryl Andresen, co-chairwoman, said: "I think that it was well worth it. It is a party they will never forget. It was the last time that they would be with all of their friends. And it was a rewarding experience for the parents involved."
The parents took a their cue from members of the Grad Nite Foundation of Orange County, which has sponsored such events for the past 10 years.
In April, about 15 parents began work in a warehouse, painting props for the gym and preparing the 120-foot-long cruise ship facade for the entrance to the gymnasium.
Tickets went on sale in April and by June 9 everything was moved to the gym. It was Warren High School Gymnasium, but it never looked like that before.
The cruise ship that the parents made was taller than the building and promised to take graduates on a tour of imaginary islands. The Fire Department decorated it with lights and made sure it was shipshape.
But before the 300 guests could come on board, they were searched to make sure they were not smuggling alcoholic beverages or drugs.
After that formality, the festivities began. Outside, by the ship, a steel band played calypso music. A passport photo was taken of seniors as they entered; they were given $1,000 in play money for gambling games on the ship, and they were greeted by Principal Edward Harcharik, dressed as the ship's captain.
"Our parents did a professional job. I have been on a cruise before and the ship really did look as if it were out to sea," Harcharik said. He said the young people were astounded by the transformation. "This is awesome. Unbelievable," they said. Inside, the ceiling was lowered and lights were dimmed where the hardwood floor of the gymnasium was sectioned off into areas resembling those on a ship. There was a disco for dancing, a casino for playing blackjack and roulette and several live theaters where mimes and magicians performed.
Graduates could lip-sync music videos. There were artists, hypnotists, fortune-tellers and there was a quiet area by the pool.
No Other Students
The festivities were exclusively for Warren High School graduating seniors. Underclassmen were not allowed, nor were students from other schools.
More than 300 of the 430 members of the graduating class attended, and if there was a problem, it was getting them to go home.
"I got there at 11 p.m. Everybody stayed. There was so much to do. I didn't leave until 6 a.m.," Tony Rodriguez said.
The event included $100 cash prizes raffled during the event, a train trip for two to San Diego and a $500 gift certificate, Rodriguez said.
"It was really neat. They always kept you busy. Even friends of mine who normally drink said they had fun," Rodriguez said.
There was also a graffiti wall where seniors could leave their messages. The messages were placed in a time capsule to be opened at the 10-year reunion of the Class of 1989
Rodriguez said he left his mark on that.
"I wrote, 'To Warren High School. I'll always remember you and I'll never forget all of the fun times I had.' "