The weekend before San Lorenzo Valley High School and Coast Redwood seniors graduate each June, it starts. As the end of the school year nears, scaffolding is erected along the front of SLVHS, forms are shaped and painted and visual effects are crafted. And in less time than the God of the Old Testament took to create the universe, it’s done—the SLVHS’ Grad Night facade is on full display for passersby who might smile, nod, and perhaps recall their own treasured grad night experiences.
Past themes have included Medieval Times, Rock & Roll and Superheroes, each event festooned in games, entertainments, food, drinks and raffle prizes. This year’s theme may be referred to as, “We Hope We Have a Grad Night.”
No one need be reminded of the continuous streak of bad news and worse luck that has plagued the San Lorenzo Valley for the past year. Warding off that onslaught, Grad Night organizers for the Class of 2021 are digging in to create a renewed concept of the event. Grad Night co-Chair Alissa Nolan and Fundraising Chair Angelica Stretch are determined to find the optimism buried in the ashes.
With Santa Cruz County toggling between Covid-based closure tiers, it’s anyone’s guess as to how—or if—this year’s celebration will play out. The committee is investigating off-site events in an open air facility and Nolan says she and her team are ready to move in any direction.
“We’ve even been looking into having an event on our football field,” she said.
Until more residents receive Covid-19 vaccinations, and the county’s infection rate sharply drops, it’s impossible to forecast what the health department will allow come June.
“So many of our community’s families have been hard hit by everything from Covid to job losses, evacuations to needing to find a new place to live,” Nolan said. “We really want to give these kids something positive and memorable to finish up their high school experience.”
Nolan says she recognizes that even the ability to pay for a Grad Night ticket (also referred to as a “bid”) is beyond what some families can comfortably afford given Covid-19 hardships and the destruction of the CZU August Lightning Complex.
“We would normally raise money from selling bids,” Nolan said. “This year, I can’t imagine asking a family to pay for their senior to attend.”
For more than 30 years, high schools have been offering Grad Night to ensure that graduates have a safe and sober celebration. (Disney executives saw an opportunity to support high schools that were seeking an alternative to the house party, and began hosting Grad Night celebrations in 1964.) The traditional Grad Night experience would normally have a budget of $35,000, and would include an all-night party on the cordoned-off SLVHS campus, culminating with a raffle loaded with donated gifts worth thousands of dollars. For the 2021 event, organizers have raised about $5,000, and are seeking sponsorships and donations from local businesses and community members.
Stretch says she is hoping that donations for goodie bags will start to roll in, but she’s not sure where to begin.
“How do you go to a business that has suffered such loss in the past year, and ask for support?” she asked.
For now, Nolan and Stretch are inviting past Grad Night attendees to remember the fun they had at their own event.
“If you attended Grad Night, and you enjoyed it, we welcome you to donate towards this year’s celebration, no matter how much,” Nolan said.
Added Stretch: “No donation is too small. We want to do everything we can to help the graduates of 2021 have one last celebration together.”
For businesses and individuals looking to support SLVHS’ Grad Night event, donations may be made via the group’s website at slvgradnight.com.