TOWNSEND -- It takes about 100 people to keep the graduating class safe the night they leave high school behind.

"The key is keeping the kids busy all night," said Jackie O'Neil, the co-chairman of Project Graduation at North Middlesex Regional High School.

The graduates arrive at the school at 10 p.m. for a night of surprises and activities that last until 5 a.m.

The first surprise is how the school looks. "It's just amazing what the decorating committee does," said co-chairman Shelly Cobleigh.

Food is served all night long. "Every couple of hours, it's a different food," Cobleigh said.

Local and regional businesses donate the food and bring it in fresh to the school throughout the night. Before leaving in the morning, the kids get breakfast.

Both gyms are in use, with volleyball and dodgeball games and other surprise activities the organizers are keeping under wraps.

Coordinators hope to have 30 prizes to raffle off to the graduates, including laptops and iPads.

All of this is free for the more than 200 graduates expected to take part that night. The students are not allowed to leave the alcohol- and drug-free event unless they are signed out and picked up by a parent.

The bash is meant to discourage party-hopping, the organizers said.

So far, it has worked. They knew of no problems related to graduation night in the district since Project Graduation began 10 years ago.

"It's such a great event.


To me, it's such an important thing," Cobleigh said.

It takes a lot of fundraising to make this free fete happen.

The first big fundraiser is a calendar raffle in December. Each day, a winner for a cash prize ranging from $25 to $500 will be chosen. Tickets are $10 each.

Volunteer fundraisers also write grants and contact local businesses for support.

Many of the parent volunteers help with the event before their child is a senior.

"We try not to have parents of seniors involved" as chaperones, O'Neil said. The kids have more fun if their parents are not there watching during the night.

Even the adults enjoy the celebration; many return year after year to help. O'Neil has volunteered for the 10 years the party has been held. This year is Cobleigh's sixth Project Graduation.

Volunteers are needed for different committees before and during the event.

The organizers need help with fundraising, prizes, food, decoration, entertainment and check-in, not to mention the 100 chaperones needed to keep an eye on things that night.

A firefighter, emergency medical technician and a police officer will be on duty. The firefighters and EMT always donate their time and usually the police officer does also, Cobleigh said.

Graduation is scheduled for June 1, 2013.

To contact the committee, call 978-597-8721, email or visit the school website and follow the community link to the Project Graduation information.