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Is Project Graduation coming to Secaucus?

Proposed by high school seniors, the idea has been embraced by the town so far

Danielle Moschetti addresses the Secaucus Town Council at a late August meeting. Photo by Daniel Israel.

Secaucus High School seniors have petitioned the town to start a local Project Graduation program, and the idea has been warmly embraced by Secaucus officials.

Danielle Moschetti, a rising senior at Secaucus High School who currently serves as President of the Class of 2023, led the calls for Project Graduation at a recent council meeting with the support of some classmates.

“I have always said throughout my time serving in this capacity that it would always remain a priority of mine to not only advocate for my classmates as whole, but to ensure as a class we are having the best possible experience while finishing out our times within the halls of Secaucus High School,” she said.

“As you can probably recall from your time in high school, senior year is one of the best years of one’s high school career. While my classmates and I have not experienced this yet, one thing I do know is that it’s one last opportunity for everyone to make lasting memories together. With that being said, I am coming before you tonight to share an idea that we would like to make a reality: Project Graduation.”

According to Moschetti, Project Graduation is a program offered by many high school students and schools in the United States, in which organized, adult-supervised, and alcohol-free activities are offered as part of a post graduation.

“This type of an organized event is oftentimes used as an alternative to student-run events as being safer, more secure, and supervised,” she said. “While I’m not sure about the exact details as to why, Secaucus High School does not participate in events such as this.”

Bringing Project Graduation to Secaucus

Moschetti said that Secaucus and Hoboken are the last holdouts in Hudson County that do not participate in Project Graduation.

“I thought I would take this time to bring an idea to each of you and seeking a collaborative partnership with the senior class, the Mayor and Town Council, and the Secaucus Police Department,” she said. “Secaucus and Hoboken are the only two towns that do not participate in Project Graduation. All other towns in the county participate. The police departments in these other participating Hudson County towns get involved and support the senior classes in ways such as escorting buses to ensure each student and chaperone arrives at the secret location safely, and being a friendly face the graduation seniors.”

While the idea, especially coming from a high school student, may seem farfetched, Moschetti said she wants to enjoy the safe fun activities that encompass Project Graduation.

“‘Why do we want to have it?’ you may be wondering,” she said. “I personally support this event as a great thing to do as a class family after we graduate, stay together after the big celebration, and most importantly, have fun together without misbehaving. I also have family and friends in other schools around the state who have graduated and been able to participate in it. The photos and videos always look so much fun.”

Moschetti is not alone. She and her classmates are in favor of the proposed Project Graduation.

Class of 2023 in favor of the post graduation program

“I was able to receive feedback from fellow classmates in the class of 2023 via a poll this given summer, and not one rising senior disagreed with this idea,” she said. “This to me speak volumes. In addition, several parents I have come in contact with would support this event if it was to happen, because they at least would know where their child is after graduation and that they are supervised and being safe while having fun.”

According to Moschetti, the Class of 2023 has enough funds to support the program.

“Together, as a class, since we have entered SHS in 2019, our advisor Miss [Toni-Ann] Palmisano has worked closely with us to ensure we were always fundraising,” she said. “Because of these continuous efforts, we were able to save up money that could assist with going through with this idea. Even if we realize we don’t have enough funds, we are willing to work as hard as we can to do our part and make it happen.”

The reason why Moschetti was bringing this to the Town Council was because of how the idea was received by Principal Steven Viggiani.

“Our advisor brought this idea on our behalf to the administration a few months back, and there seems to be confusion as to who runs it, school versus parents,” she said. “I ask that you please take our idea into account and help give Secaucus students the same experience that all these other schools across our country and state get. I along with my fellow classmates and class advisor, welcome the opportunity to work together with you all as a team, as well as the Secaucus Board of Education, to see this idea become a reality.”

Town council overwhelmingly on board

Mayor Michael Gonnelli asked Moschetti the class had asked the Board of Education about this, to which she said the Class of 2023 had not yet.

When asked where and who does run it by Gonnelli and Third Ward Councilwoman Orietta Tringali, Moschetti clarified: “It’s a secret location. Most towns, actually all towns do it staff run, like by the school.”

First Ward Councilman James Clancy said he is familiar with the program and offered to help.

“I have experienced Project Graduation of a few classes,” Clancy said. “I had one myself in ‘96. You can contact me and I will do whatever I can.”

Gonnelli suggested forming a committee to plan Project Graduation, which he, Tringali and others would sit on, and consult with Police Chief Dennis Miller.

“We’ll get a whole committee together and we’ll have the chief there also,” Gonnelli said. “We’ll starting meeting now to talk about the future.”

When it comes to the Board of Education, Gonnelli said he already spoke with Board of Education Secretary and School Business Administrator Grace Yeo who was receptive to the idea.

“We’re going to get the board involved,” he said. “I spoke to Grace [Yeo] about it and she’s 100 percent on board.”

Getting everyone else with the program

Gonnelli added that he would call Viggiani to see what his reaction would be.

“I think it’s great,” Gonnelli said. “If we supervise it, that would be awesome. Because that’s a night that God only knows what could happen.”

First Ward Councilman Robert Costantino jokingly said he would “strong arm anyone” to make it happen.

When asked about how much funding they have for this by Gonnelli, Moschetti said they have a lot of funding because they want to do this or a big class trip.

“And we have our Tricky Tray which could bring in a lot of money,” Moschetti said.

Gonnelli said the committee would meet after the Tricky Tray. That fundraiser was held on Sunday, September 25.

“Let’s do the Tricky Tray, after that we’ll get together as a group,” he said.

As such, the committee may meet soon to further discuss the proposal. However, town officials have already met to further discuss Project Graduation.

After the August meeting, Viggiani said that Acting Superintendent Dr. Daniela Riser, Assistant Principal Amanda Wargocki, Yeo, and himself are fully supportive of the idea. The plans for the program had been in the works for some years amid some delays but plans were again in motion.

School administration is supportive, but concerned over costs

Viggiani explained that in the spring of 2019, the school administration and class advisors began the discussion of bringing Project Graduation to Secaucus High School, but planning was put on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fundraising efforts and location scouting became nearly impossible with COVID restrictions in place until recently, he said.

As restrictions began to ease in the area, the discussion of Project Graduation was rekindled with Class of 2023 class officers and advisor Palmisano. On September 7, Palmisano, Gonnelli, Clancy, Tringali, Riser, Yeo, Wargocki, and Viggiano met to discuss the steps necessary for a Project Graduation for the Class of 2023.

At that meeting, Viggiani said that school administrators raised the concern of cost per student for the various senior activities, which may now include Project Graduation. He said that senior students are already faced with many expenses throughout the year including a prom bid, yearbook, senior portraits, and senior trip, in addition to the cost of prom attire, graduation attire, etcetera.

Since Project Graduations can run upwards of approximately $30,000, school administrators are concerned the cost may put an unequitable burden on some senior families, according to Viggiani. They want to ensure fundraising efforts can properly offset the costs of the activities so every event is financially attainable for all students to attend, he said.

Viggiani concluded that the “entire” Secaucus School District is looking forward to working with the Project Graduation Committee.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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