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Since the 1970s, Waxahachie High School senior parents have hosted the biggest graduation party of the year, Project Graduation.

Each year, Project Graduation provides a fun, safe event where graduates can celebrate with their classmates and win prizes from tickets they’ve earned throughout the year as well as at the event itself.

It is held following the graduation ceremony and is open to all seniors from Waxahachie High School and Waxahachie High School of Choice. Attendance has seen up to 90% of the graduating class attend in previous years and, with the senior class size having 562 members, organizers are expecting a large turnout for the 2021 event.

“It was started by a group of parents at our local country club to gather the graduates and celebrate their time together, and to keep them safe, and has just progressed over the years to include games and prizes,” said Nicole Burnett, Project Graduation vice president. “This event relies on volunteers and the generosity of our community and needs any assistance that can be given during these difficult times as fundraisers continue to be cancelled.”

The event runs from after graduation until 6 a.m. the next morning. Activities include casino games, a cash grab machine, Gaga Ball, 9 square, movies, video games, inflatables, swimming and prize giveaways. The 2021 event will be held at the Waxahachie YMCA.

Given the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, Project Graduation had a much different look and consisted of a scavenger hunt for seniors through Waxahachie to earn tickets. They then placed the tickets into buckets from which prize winners were drawn. If the pandemic is still an issue where the 2021 event couldn’t be held as planned, a scavenger hunt could be an option again.

Burnett noted that Project Graduation is an event the seniors look forward to all year, with fundraising beginning almost as soon as the prior academic year ends. Unfortunately, this year has been particularly difficult for the committee spearheading the event.

Three major fundraiser opportunities, the CNB Christmas party, the Ellis County Craft Fair and concessions at the Motorplex, have all had to be cancelled due to COVID-19. It’s been a huge hit for the committee and its plans, and for the students who are already going through a much different senior experience than in previous years.

“Project Graduation is paid for by donations and fundraisers that we hold throughout the school year,” Burnett said. “Some fundraisers we have done so far are selling masks and gaiters at football and volleyball games, and Spirit Night at MOD Pizza. There are additional ones scheduled at Tacos 4 Life on Dec. 2, Chipotle on Dec. 19, and Raising Canes on Jan. 6. People can go eat at those restaurants and mention Project Graduation and, in turn, 20% of their meal will be donated to Project Graduation.”

Project Graduation will be handling valet duties at the Waxahachie Junior Service League VIP event Dec. 4 and, for the first time, will host a golf tournament April 30.

“Our goal is to raise $45,000 for this event, and COVID-19 is making that difficult,” Burnett said. “We have lost some of the fundraisers that we normally do, and businesses are not donating as much. We have our work cut out for us this year.”

One major fundraiser that hasn’t been affected by the pandemic and is now increasingly important is the sale of Project Graduation Discount Cards, which include 60 different discount offers from local vendors. The vendors and deals are diversified and offer something for everyone, ranging from home improvement services to beauty treatments, boutique shops and restaurant specials. Each card is $20 and offers a full year of discounts redeemable from January-December 2021. They will be available for purchase at First Financial Bank, Waxahachie Gymnastics Center and the Waxahachie Sun.

“With all of the amazing businesses in Waxahachie, it is fairly easy to fill up our cards,” Burnett said. “It is just a matter of our volunteers reaching out to them. Plus, many of the businesses have been featured on the cards for several years, so they are happy to continue. We are also happy to say that this year we were able to get 13 new vendors.”

Project Graduation is still in need of volunteers and senior parents who want to get involved are asked to email whspg2021@gmail.com. The group meets monthly.

Project Graduation is also continuing to collect donations for the event itself, so anyone who would like to make a cash donation or donate a prize to be given away can also email the same address.

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