In 1979, nine teens were killed in five different alcohol-related crashes in Oxford Hills between April and June. Of the dead, seven were from the Bethel area, graduates of Telstar Regional High School.

The string of deaths shocked the Telstar and Oxford Hills communities, and galvanized people to organize alcohol-free events for teens.

The first Project Graduation was held at Oxford Hills High School on June 14, 1980, an alcohol-free graduation party during an era when many private graduation parties typically featured alcohol.

There were no alcohol- or drug-related fatalities or arrests in Oxford Hills that year.

In 1981, Telstar hosted its first Project Graduation and educators and volunteers have helped graduating classes celebrate their accomplishments safely and soberly ever since. Telstar was one of 12 Maine schools that adopted the Project Graduation. The following year there were 38 sites, and fatalities declined. In 1983, there were 86 sites and zero fatalities.

By 1986, there were 136 sites, or 98% of all Maine high school participating in Project Graduation, with about 80% of all high school seniors participating in substance-free events.


Project Graduation was one of eight national models selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to be presented at a national conference held in Washington, D.C., in 1983, according to the Maine DHHS.  At that conference, Project Graduation was identified as a concrete model of community support for alcohol-free celebrations and reduction in auto fatalities during the commencement season.

Three years later, there were Project Graduations held in all 50 states and two Canadian provinces.

According to DHHS, “all school-related functions are supposed to be chemical-free, but what makes Project Graduation different is the attitude of the students. They have made a conscious decision to enjoy their graduation night without alcohol or other drugs. And no other group, including parents and school personnel, can make that decision for students.”

The primary aim of Project Graduation activities, according to DHHS, is to increase “awareness of the dangers of drinking, drugging and driving and to reduce the number of youth involved in alcohol and other drug-related” crashes.

Project Graduations are now held all over the world, with the mission of saving teens’ lives by organizing supervised, chemical-free celebrations. For Telstar seniors, events are scheduled for the week of graduation, culminating with a night of activities following commencement ceremonies on June 10.

Project Graduation — which includes food, games, prizes and more — is not funded through the school budget. Students, families, friends and local businesses raise money for the event, including money to pay for prizes that are used as incentives to persuade all seniors to attend events throughout the week.


Organizers are looking for prize donations, including t-shirts, electronics, gift cards, etc., to be raffled off to students during the after-graduation events.

There are 40 members of this year’s Telstar graduating class, and organizers would like to have every attendee leave the final event with a gift bag. If donations cannot be mailed, organizers would be happy to pick them up.

Organizers are also looking for cash donations to fund the activities. The goal this year is to raise $10,000.

On Saturday, May 14, students and teachers will hold a car wash fundraiser at Mac’s Car Wash on Cross Street, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Drivers can motor through the car wash, or have their car washed by hand. All proceeds will go toward Project Graduation.

Rain date is Sunday, May 22.

There is also a raffle calendar this month, during which 31 gift bags representing each day of May — valued at between $50 and $300 each — will be raffled off. Ticket holders will get extra chances to win because winning tickets are placed back in the drawing, so there are multiple chances for people to win.


Raffle calendars are now available, at a cost of $20 per calendar, and can be purchased from parents of the Class of 2022, or by calling Koral Fraser 890-4903 or Sally Smith at 462-6264. The drawing for all prizes will be held at the end of the month.

The calendars will also be on sale during the car wash at Mac’s.

Winning prizes must be picked up from the school.

All donations are tax-deductible, and organizers will send thank you letters of proof of donation for tax records.

Checks and donated prizes can be mailed to: Project Graduation 2022, Telstar Regional High School, 284 Walkers Mills Road, Bethel, Maine 04217. Please make checks payable to: THS Project Graduation.

For more information, call Koral at 890-4903 or Sally at 462-6264.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: