Mingus Union High School seniors have been excited since August for the end of the school year — certainly for the end of classes and graduation, but also the graduation party thrown in their honor.
Operation Graduation is a 22-year tradition at Mingus. It is the lock-down, all-night bash loaded with entertainment, food, games, food, music, more food and fun. The graduating seniors and their friends can cut loose in a safe, substance-free and chaperoned environment.
Everyone will start to drift in around 10 p.m. on Friday, May 23, after graduation ceremonies on the football field. Once inside the teens stay until the party is over around 5 a.m. on Saturday, May 24. No student can get in after 11 p.m., but students may leave the party. However, once gone no one gets back in.
Each year more than 85 percent of the graduates join the party at the Clark Memorial Clubhouse in Clarkdale. Many also bring along one or two guests. The average each year is around 500 teens who are not out on the roads to celebrate.
Operation Graduation Committee Chairman Chris Quasula wants to increase the percentage of graduates and wants all of the approximately 238 who receive diplomas to come to the party.
“There’s not a more fun place to be. We’re bringing back the kids favorites and adding a few new features to the party. We’ll have a live band, The Bratskis, who are all high-schoolers, and a DJ for music,” Quasula said.
Some of the other repeats are the inflatable games, movies, laser tag, rock climbing, video and board games, and a caricaturist. The pool will not be part of the party, though, because Quasula said not enough people wanted to swim when it was offered.
A little more than a dozen people put the party together over the last few months, arranging the entertainment, getting donations of food and prizes, and raising money to buy more prizes.
“We were all out last week buying gifts and hope to get enough cash donations by the time of the party to give the traditional grand prize to one graduate of $2,008,” Quasula said.
There always is a lot of food. Many of the parents and committee members bake cookies, brownies, cakes and pies, along with donations of goodies from local grocery stores. The big feature on the food tables, as one can guess, is pizza — lots of pizza — a staple in the teen diet.
Another part of Operation Graduation that began just a few years ago is a raffle for a quad with trailer at $10 a ticket. People wanting to enter the drawing still have a few days to buy a ticket. They can be purchased at Taylor Waste, A&B Motors, Reese and Sons, The Cowboy Shop, Verde Lea Market or at the Northern Arizona Boys and Girls Club in Cottonwood.
“We’ll draw the winner Saturday, May 24, before the party ends at 5 a.m.,” Quasula said.
Other prizes for seniors include stereo equipment, computers, televisions, trips, iPods, gift cards, personal services and dozens of other items known to be in demand by teens. Each senior in attendance is guaranteed at least one prize.
“Many of the area restaurants donated not only food, but food certificates, and not just the fast food places,” Quasula said.
Along with wanting more teens to come and enjoy the party, he said more donations and volunteers are welcome. A few more chaperones would help ease the load for the those who already volunteered.
“You don’t have to stay for the whole night — two, three or four hours — whatever people feel comfortable with. They can call Cheryl Kessel at 634-2428,” Quasula said.
To donate food, items can be taken to the clubhouse up until the morning of the party.
The party was in jeopardy this year because, as of January 15, no one had come forward to take the chairman position. After an article appeared in the Cottonwood Journal Extra, Quasula called Ooida Door, Mingus staff liaison for Operation Graduation, and volunteered. Other volunteers came to help and the committee started to work in mid-February.
“We got it together in three months. I’m amazed at the members of the committee and how hard they worked to do this for the graduates,” Quasula said.
Other schools in the Verde Valley have followed Mingus’ example and have an all-night party or an over night trip for the graduating seniors.
Sedona Red Rock High School is going to Disneyland. Several schools are going the same night, and the park’s officials are closing the park for them.
“It’s so great to know that our efforts and everyone who contributed helped these kids stay safe graduation night and provided them with a whole night of fun,” Quasula said.
For more information or to volunteer, call Quasula at 639-3057.