The story behind Wilton's annual post-graduation party
Psst… heard about Wilton’s covert operation, involving over a hundred ‘secret’ agents? Mission: Impossible? Almost. It’s the annual surprise graduation party for Wilton’s high-school seniors, organized by their parents.
Post Graduation Party, better known as PGP, was started after the 1983 drunk-driving death of a Ridgefield High School senior on commencement night, and provides a safe, alcohol- and drug-free environment where graduates can celebrate together.
So what’s the ‘surprise’ if it happens every year? The theme. “Every year, it’s different, and it’s kept secret until the last moment. We want to build excitement and anticipation,” says Elena Baggio, co-chair of PGP 2012. Prior year themes have included world travel (An Excellent Adventure), pirates (Seize the Moment) and music (My Life: My Playlist). The party, held graduation day at Middlebrook School, starts at 10:30 p.m., ends at 5:30 a.m. and includes music, dancing, games, and food.
Each PGP is the culmination of social and fundraising events that start in seventh grade. Overseen by the Wilton Youth Council and organized by a committee of parents under the name The Projects, these include dances, amusement park trips, and skating parties for the students. PGP typically requires a budget of about $50,000, so the committee’s goal is to raise $10,000 per year. Parents are asked to purchase a PGP ticket, usually about $100, for their senior, to help cover some of the costs. “That may seem like a lot, but your child is in a drug- and alcohol-free environment for seven hours,” notes Baggio. Adds Angela Mills, 2011 PGP decorating co-chair, “When you consider the cost for a prom, PGP is a great value.” PGP is open to all graduating Wilton seniors, including those who attended a different high school, and financial aid is available for those who need it.
Planning PGP starts a year before graduation. Over a hundred parents brainstorm theme ideas, build temporary walls, and wield glue guns, paint brushes, and other art supplies to make the necessary props and decorations. They also spend hours planning the food, soliciting prize donations, and designing invitations and hand-delivering them to every senior at home.
What’s planned for 2012? “I can’t tell you that!” laughs Nancy Saxe, the 2012 PGP publicity chair. “People in this town are so creative! The seniors will have no idea; they aren’t allowed in until the night of the party.”
While grads clearly look forward to PGP, and many parents enjoy volunteering for it, the event does have critics. Says Samantha Gosein, a PGP 2011 volunteer, “Although it’s a good idea, parents can become competitive, trying to create a better room than another group or a better event than the year before. That shouldn’t be the focus; it’s about the kids.” The evening includes a raffle for several big ticket items, like iPads, bicycles, kayaks, and HDTVs. Some parents take issue with this because they feel Wilton kids already have so much. Julie Aquan, a Project 2010 volunteer, points out that the vast majority of gifts are donated. “The public hears about the few high-ticket items, but what they may not realize is that every student goes home with a small gift, typically something like an alarm clock or bath organizer.”
Regardless, the seniors love it. “It was awesome!” says Amanda Berg, referring to her 2011 PGP. “The parents did an amazing job decorating the space. You couldn’t tell you were in Middlebrook. You didn’t want to leave at the end because you were having so much fun.” Jessica Spung, who graduates this year, can’t wait for hers. “I’ve heard they totally change Middlebrook, you can stay overnight, and they have fun activities.”
That excitement, and providing a safe environment for their children, says Baggio, motivates parents to devote hours of their time to make PGP happen. “It is something students will never forget. The end, but also the beginning of a new chapter of their lives.” PGP also turns out to be a bonding experience for many parents who volunteered together. One group, who created the Africa room last year, have dubbed themselves the African Queens and still meet regularly, although without the glue guns.