Project Graduation began in Chapel Hill-Carrboro in 1993, initiated by a small but determined group of students, parents and school personnel. Their vision was to start a yearly tradition for the high school, providing a safe, drug- and alcohol-free celebration following graduation. They wanted a student-driven event so that students would attend, and they wanted it to be free for all seniors. They contacted the leadership of the Durham Project Graduation and received initial guidance from that group.
The two biggest obstacles in the beginning were finding a place
to hold Project Graduation and finding funds to support the celebration.
Obtaining the use of the UNC Student Union was a turning point
in getting Project Graduation off the ground. Organizers initially
used their own funds for expenses such as postage, and then solicited
the community for donations of prizes, food and cash. The community
responded generously and has continued to do so year after year.
Project Graduation operated through the Lincoln Center offices
of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools for fundraising and
check writing in its first year. The following year, the organizers
recognized the need for charitable status and requested to operate
under the auspices of the Public School Foundation. After Project
Graduation 1994, the core group of organizers saw the need to
have their own non-profit status. They wrote by-laws, organized
a board of directors, and applied for and received non-profit
status as a 501(c)(3) organization. The Board of Directors consists
of students, parents, and members from the community and the
For the first several years of Project Graduation, there was
only one high school in the City Schools System. When the second
high school was being planned, the Board established a policy
to include it and any additional high schools that might be added
in the future. Parent co-chairs, representing each high school,
serve on the Board of Directors for the year that they serve
as chairs. The Board also includes, as ex-officio members, the
student co-chairs, the high school principals, the school health
coordinator, the superintendent, and the manager of the UNC Carolina
Student Union Center. The leadership of the Carolina Student
Union has generously hosted Project Graduation and provided outstanding
support to its planning efforts throughout its history.
Project Graduation has grown with our student population over the years, and each year it is given a new personality by the senior class planning it. (The various themes are evident in the designs from past years.) The goal of Project Graduation has always been to provide a safe environment for our seniors on their graduation night, and it has been very successful in that regard. Attendance by the graduates from the very beginning has been outstanding. The Chapel Hill News reported, after the first Project Graduation in 1993, that “Project Graduation was a resounding success and those who were there Thursday night got in on the ground floor of what promises to be a new graduation night tradition in Chapel Hill.” That tradition continues, now in its sixteenth year, thanks to thousands of hours of effort by hundreds of volunteers, and the generous support of numerous individuals and businesses in the community.