Commissioners tell grads: Don't die for drinks

At the St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner Dan Raley’s (D, Great Mills) message for graduating high school students was simple: Don’t die for drinks.

Graduation ceremonies for students from the local high schools began Tuesday and run through Friday.


“Friends who are senior fetch it for them,” said Commissioner President Jack Russell (D, St. George Island), expressing his concern to The Bay Net.

But Russell said he has heaved a sigh of relief that for nearly a quarter century now, since the United States Navy has helped keep youngsters and the community out of harms way through a program called “Project Graduation.”

The program is entering its 23rd year in St. Mary’s County, public information officer Karen Everett said.

The Patuxent River Naval Air Station opens its recreational facilities, including swimming pools, bowling alleys and a gymnasium, to host after-graduation parties for the seniors.

Everett said the base facilities would open its doors for graduates from Ryken High School and Kings Christian Academy Tuesday, Chopticon High School Wednesday, Leonardtown High School Thursday and Great Mills High School Friday.

The local Project Graduation was inspired by officials’ realization that 83 percent of the deaths of young people were related to the use of alcohol or other drugs.

The program is partially funded through fines paid by people arrested for substance abuse crimes.

Now, all students who participate in Project Graduation sign contracts in which they agree not to consume any illegal substance during graduation festivities.

A student who breaks the contract, and, hence, the law, can be arrested and prosecuted. The students work with school administrators, the Maryland State Police, and a project coordinator.

“We are proud of this partnership,” said Russell. He said a team of employees from the county’s Office of Community Services and the State’s Attorney’s office would coordinate the events with the local schools and the Navy.

Other significant partners of Project Graduation include the Optimist Clubs, Sherrif’s Office, and State Police, according to Everett.

These events provide a safe and fun alternative to party hopping to keep our graduates off of the roads and enjoying a chaperoned and substance free celebration, Russell said.

The need for the program throughout the state was illustrated by recent incidents in Anne Arundel County.

Two weeks ago, Gregory James Karanzalis, 24, was charged with furnishing alcoholic beverages to two minors at the Broadneck High School, according to the Anne Arundel County police. Senior Galen Harig-Blaine of the same school died last month of alcohol poisoning.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that 713 youth under the age of 21 died in alcohol-related fatalities nationwide during prom and graduation season in 2004.

Official counts show alcohol-related fatalities among teens are highest in April, May and June.

According to county totals, 1,030

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