Explorer file photo An ice sculpture at a past party for Ironwood Ridge High School graduates delighted the guests and showed the lengths Project Graduation volunteers will go to for a dramatic send-off.

When “Pomp and Circumstances” plays in Northwest high school stadiums, you can be sure excited parents are nearby.

But although you would expect to find them in the stands, they’re also in school gymnasiums, cafeterias and courtyards.

Senior graduation brings hundreds of Project Graduation volunteers to high school campuses where they busy themselves putting final touches on lavish props for all-night blowout parties designed to keep young people safe on graduation night.

“We’ve worked all year on this, and we love to see the end product,” said Barbara Gephart, coordinator for Ironwood Ridge High School’s party.

Given the preparation involved, the arrival of a Project Graduation party marks a coming of age all of its own.

Planning begins at the end of students’ junior year. Before school lets out, juniors vote on a theme. When the students reconvene in the fall as seniors, they hear the result of the vote. By that time, volunteers already have a detailed plan for how to represent the theme in larger-than-life ways.

This year, Canyon Del Oro graduates will party to the theme “The Adventures of Indiana Jones.” Graduates of Ironwood Ridge High School will go on wild, make-believe “Road Trip.”

As soon as the theme announcement is made, parent volunteers start meeting monthly to build scenery and props. Ironwood High School, alone, uses about 300 volunteers to get its party rolling.

The culmination — The Big Day — finds parents darting around from 8 a.m. the morning of the party to 7 a.m. the next morning to show graduates a stellar time.

It’s fabulous,” Gephart said. “We’re all crazy. We’re nuts. It’s the energy of the kids that keeps us going. It’s the look on their faces. The energy just hits. They’re so excited.”

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