Local milestones and traditions, aborted or adjusted for more than two years, are slowly returning as the Covid-19 pandemic recedes.
The most exclusive of them all ends at 5:30 in the morning.
That’s the all-night graduation celebration for the Bedford High School Class of 2022. Organizers are refining plans for the event, scheduled to begin at 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 2, and continue for seven hours.
Following commencement ceremonies at the Tsongas Center in Lowell earlier in the evening, the all-night festivities are a memorable second act as the curtain closes on the graduates’ high school careers.
The mission of the all-night graduation party is the same as it was when the BHS tradition began in 1988: a fun, entertaining event, intimate for the new graduates, in a safe, controlled environment. This year’s celebration is sponsored by the BHS Parents Association and the town’s Youth and Family Services Department.
There’s a web page that explains not only information about the event but also ways to support it financially: https://bhspa.org/all-night-grad-party/.
Dawn Kociubes and Kerry Rackey are serving as overall co-chairs, working with a committee of about 20 core volunteers and subcommittees that involve dozens more, ranging from decorations to cleanup. Committee members are lining up entertainment, prizes, food, games, raffles, photos, everything to keep the new graduates engaged throughout the night.
“Our class of 2022 has been through a lot over the past two years,” said Pearlene Varjabedian, fundraising chair. “They have shown patience, flexibility, and understanding, and we need our community’s support.”
“We are so appreciative of all of the hard work and dedication from the all-night graduation committee and the parent community,” said Dylan DiGangi, vice president of the Class of 2022. “We recognize it takes a tremendous amount of effort and funding to pull off this amazing event and we are truly grateful.”
Volunteer decorators transform the cafeteria, the gymnasium, surrounding hallways, and rooms that usually are so familiar. The details of the agenda for June 2-3 are a surprise – “It’s supposed to be a secret. Everything is supposed to be new and unexpected for the kids,” Rackey said.
“We try to get parents involved when their kids are in middle school or freshmen and stick around,” said Rackey, who with Kociubes took over the leadership in 2018. Several parents of alumni have remained connected, she added. Parents of graduates help with preparations but are not allowed at the school during the event.
Raising thousands of dollars is a major focus as the two-month mark approaches. “We need a lot of help to bring in what’s needed,” Varjabedian said. The committee is appealing to members of the business community as well as individual households and BHS graduates from the past 30 years.
A few members of the Class of 2022 are learning about past BHS all-night graduation parties from their parents.
“My senior class (1988) was actually the first class to ever have the all-night grad party and it was a blast!” recalled Tami (Beecy) Mead. “As I have told my senior TJ, ‘It is the last time most likely that your class will all be together in the same place, so have fun and enjoy every moment of it!”
“It is kind of surreal having kids who are graduating from the same high school and doing the same fun things we got to do,” Mead reflected.
Fay Russo, the first and current director of Town Center, was a key organizer of the initial all-night celebration. “The thing I remember most was leaving the high school just as the teachers were arriving for their ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades that Friday morning,” she laughed.
Arline Gelormini served as a volunteer for the first 14 all-night celebrations. “If it saved one life, it was worth it,” she said of the time invested. The policy always has been that once a senior leaves the event, he or she won’t be readmitted. Each year, in her experience, most of the class attended, many relishing their final opportunity to be together as a unit.
During that first year, the planning committee began meeting in September, Gelormini recounted, and conducted a lot of research on other schools’ models. Parents were charged $10 or $20 initially.
Gelormini noted that Bedford High’s traditional Thursday evening graduation is helpful for lining up performers and amenities at the all-night affair – there’s less competition than on a weekend. Occasionally a contract was executed for the coming year right after the current year’s show, she said.
One year, graduation had to relocate into the gym because of rainy weather, and Gelormini and her decorations team had two hours to transform the room for the celebration. She said she recruited one of her kids and his eighth-grade classmates to inflate balloons, and they stabilized them to piles of outdated library books.