Lookout Kardashians, it’s Graduation Party Season in Orind
Once upon a time in Orinda, most likely while paring a mountain of strawberries for the school lunch salad bar, an innocent mother wondered aloud why there were no special commencement festivities for elementary school graduates.
Clearly a maternal freshman, this woman was immediately shut down by a wolf pack of seasoned mothers, riddled with hair loss and stress headaches from their past involvement with our local middle and high school graduation celebrations. The squelch was not done cruelly, but it was done firmly. Nobody wanted that firecracker exploding in the woods. Her enviable, collagen-induced spark was immediately snuffed.
Because, young mothers, if you want pomp, circumstance and festivities, you will get all three. One just has to be patient, calm your inner thoroughbred, and savor that elementary reprieve. After the Orinda Intermediate School and Miramonte High School commencement addresses, our children are treated to elaborate parties that would even impress a Kardashian.
A jaw-dropping wonderland, an embarrassment of riches and an insurance policy, all rolled into a spectacular send-off. And, I feel like I can say this, because for two years in a row I co-chaired the OIS Promotions party and worked on the entertainment committee for Miramonte’s Grad Nite in 2016. Guilty, if you will, of feeding the frenzy.
Creating these events is intimidating and quite a bit of pressure. Kids today are so easily bored. It takes a lot to wow them. And sometimes we ask ourselves, when we have so much already, why do we want to wow them even further? Why, when relatives have traveled to attend the commencement ceremony, are the youth whisked off to an all-nighter instead of enjoying a pleasant dinner with family and friends?
Middle school is tricky. Nobody wants kids getting left out. In the long run, it’s easier to throw one giant, phenomenal party where everyone is included rather than let the inevitable develop: numerous smaller, competing parties. I’m not implying these private parties would be planned with malicious intent. I have a small house, and quite frankly even if it were bigger, no one wants 200 amped-up eighth graders disturbing your neighbors and feeding cupcakes to your dog. I, too, have insisted on capping the number of guests. But kids get left out that way, and no one wants that on what should be a happy and collectively memorable group celebration.
High school Grad Nite presents another set of challenges: do whatever it takes to lure delirious teenagers into a controlled environment and keep them off the streets.
Fortunately with middle schoolers, we can still get away with a 10 p.m. wrap-up. High school, not so much. Their event usually wraps at 2 a.m., and even after our best attempts to thoroughly exhaust them, the chaperones are stumbling around like the Walking Dead while the graduates are clamoring for the dreaded after-party.
In order for both of these parties to succeed, the kids need to be excited. Anticipation must be palpable. Planners literally need buy-in, as students commit in advance by purchasing a ticket, which funds the event.
If word on the street is these parties are “lame” then the attrition rate climbs, so every year, we parents try to put on the best dog-and-pony show we can. The OIS party is held in the multi-purpose room but for insurance reasons, holding Miramonte’s Grad Nite on campus was discontinued around 2014. Held at various locations throughout the Bay Area since then (the venues are always kept secret until the students actually arrive) the high school grads are bussed to and from their event.
We bring in all their favorite foods, and the best DJs and music we can find; we craft slideshows, create stunning, transformative decorations; assign parents to oversee carnival games and dress as fortune tellers; we hire chair masseuses and photographers; we rent segueys, bungee machines, giant inflatables, mechanical bulls, robo-surfers, video games, and cotton candy machines.
It seems insane but there is a method to the madness. It’s rather like scheming to outsmart the enemy in a war against their teenage default mode of indifference and ennui, but somehow we manage to amaze some very tough critics, and that victory feels euphoric.
Parents breathe a huge sigh of relief when we awaken the next morning, sleep-deprived, yet poised at the starting gate of an entirely new chapter. Proud of our graduate and grateful in the knowledge that our kids safely, happily and unforgettably marked a milestone, Orinda style.