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Friday, June 19, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Party On Dude -- A No-Alcohol, No-Drug Night To Remember For 10, 000 Washington High-School Grads

I hated my high-school graduation party.

We drove three hours out of town to a remote campsite just to drink a couple of six-packs.

We had barely set up the tent when camp officials threatened to call the police if we didn't get rid of the beer and leave.

We got home around 5 a.m. It was one of the worst nights of my life.

That was in 1987. And I'm still brooding.

Five years later, I got the chance to relive my graduation with the Lake Stevens High School Class of 1992 at a Grad Nights no-alcohol and substance-free party.

I had a blast.

I didn't have a hangover. I can still remember everything.

"WOOOH! YEAH! ALL RIGHT! WOOOH!"

Three buses filled with 170 screaming high-school seniors arrived at the Port of Edmonds around 10 p.m. for a moonlit cruise to Seattle and back. There would be an all-nighter at a family entertainment center after that.

Lake Stevens was one of nine high schools that evening celebrating graduation with Grad Nights, a Washington business founded by Kevin Howard in 1987 that helps parents organize no-alcohol and substance-free high-school graduation parties.

Parents are responsible for raising money to cover each student's $50-$125 ticket price, and Grad Nights puts on the party.

The Lake Stevens grads and another 10,000 students from 42 schools (from Anacortes to Zillah) will have partied with Grad Nights before graduation season winds up this year.

"We're not here to preach," Howard explained. "We just want to keep them alive."

An 1988-1990 statewide survey by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction shows 11 percent - or 45,000 - of Washington public school students between the sixth and 12th grades drink daily or participate in "binge drinking" (consuming more than five drinks in one sitting). About 30 percent have experimented with alcohol by the sixth grade, and 4 percent - 16,000 students - use illegal drugs frequently.

Homemade blackjack casino tables greeted the Lake Stevens students as they boarded the cruise ship. Upstairs, a DJ blasted tunes from Naughty by Nature and Metallica.

"Smile!" Howard said, snapping my picture.

"I think I blinked," I complained as the flash went off.

"You looked fine," Howard said, handing me a button with my face on it, and the words: "I PARTIED ALL NIGHT."

Howard knows teenagers can be the most fickle of clients when it comes to entertainment. "They're too jaded, they've seen too much," he said. "They expect a full-scale event. They're more sophisticated."

"WOOOH!"

Four guys stood in a row, clothespins placed on strategic parts of their bodies - on a sleeve, a baseball cap, a shoelace.

Four blindfolded girls searched the clothespinned guys, plucking each pin off as fast as possible.

"You can put the clothespins on any part of their body, except the DANGER ZONE!" shouted Howard. "And for some guys, that zone's kind of small."

"WOOOH!"

Downstairs, Shane Osborne, 18, sat with his friends on the main deck, chowing down subs and chips.

"What are you going to do after graduation?" I asked.

"I'm going to Wazzu," the stocky fullback said between bites. "Gonna party it up," he added, slapping a high-five with one of his pals.

"What do you think of this no-alcohol party?" I asked.

Osborne shrugged.

"Does anyone in your class drink?" I asked.

"Sure, there are a lot of keggers," he boasted, slapping another high-five with a friend. "Woooh!"

Although most of the class obeyed Grad Nights' sober policy, Osborne said that a couple students "tanked up" before the celebration.

"Some people drank hard liquor really quickly before leaving," he said. "That's unsafe to do."

Osborne's candor impressed me.

"Besides," he added wryly, "It's better to drink in moderation."

"WOOOH!"

I found myself slam-dancing to the Jane's Addiction song, "Been Caught Stealin'," with Chris Hardin, a tall, energetic 18-year-old wearing a Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt.

"I haven't slept in the past two days," Hardin said, flipping his too-long bangs away from his eyes. "There were SO many parties." He counted his fingers. "Sunday, Monday. . . no, Tuesday, yeah, Wednesday, Thursday, tonight, and then there's tomorrow. . ."

Jeremy McCory, a slightly built 18-year-old with serious eyes, spoke up. "There are a lot of people here who don't drink," he said. "This party's nice. Here, they get everyone together to have fun without alcohol."

"Yeah, not all the parties last week had alcohol," Hardin agreed. "There was one where we played volleyball . . . it was really fun."

"There's gonna be a kegger tomorrow," added Chad Williams, 18.

I discovered that a student's parents were supervising the keg party.

Grad Nights coordinator Louise Langmack acknowledges the existence of parent-supervised alcohol parties, but doesn't approve of them. "I don't consider those kinds of parties a good alternative. But it's not realistic to say teenagers don't drink."

Dr. Joseph Ghaffari, superintendent for the Lake Stevens school district, agrees. "It's difficult to get the message of anti-alcohol and anti-drug abuse across if the parents provide opportunities for it."

"The parents take away your car keys for the night," Williams explained. "You can drink freely but you're not allowed to drive. It's as safe as you can get."

We neared Seattle around midnight.

Hardin, McCory, Williams and I leaned against the railing and stared at the city lights. Occasionally someone would bring up a serious topic: how some kids racially harassed an African-American classmate, how a student they assumed was heterosexual came out of the closet, how they felt about being in the real world now.

One by one they went back inside. I moved over to one student standing alone by the railing.

"Having fun?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said, his eyes fixed on the water.

"This no-alcohol party is nice," I said. "I'm really impressed with your class. Not all of you act like you have to drink to have fun."

"It's because the drugs are worse," he said. "Every day there are a few guys in the class doing pot, acid, LSD, 'shrooms (psychedelic mushrooms). They don't drink, 'cause they don't want to get caught."

"Because you can smell it on their breath?" I asked.

He nodded. "If you're stoned or high, you can hide it better," he explained. He took his gaze off the water and looked straight at me. "Like me," he said softly. "I'm tripping."

It was too dark to see his eyes. I couldn't tell if he was telling the truth.

"Sure," I said.

"If anyone is caught with drugs, we call the police and cancel the party," Howard said. According to Howard, Grad Nights has not had any major problems with the students.

Rio Three Stars, 18, and Kim Echols, 18, are among the many Lake Stevens High students who choose not to drink or attend alcohol parties. "I'm having a great time," said Three Stars. "I'm not much on drinking."

"I choose not to drink," Echols said. "Everyone respects that. They know you don't have to have alcohol to have a good time."

"Most of them know that," she repeated. Then paused. "I think."

The cruise ended around 1 a.m. Next stop, the family entertainment center: free video games, air hockey and pool tables, bumper cars, pizza, fries, more music and a miniature golf course. Not to mention a caricature artist and a wandering magician.

"I'm going the wrong way!" a girl shouted as her bumper car crashed into the wall.

"SAY NO TO DRUGS - William Sessions, FBI," flashed on the video game "NARC."

Students pressed their lipsticked lips against a white poster for the "HOT LIPS" contest - who had the hottest lips in the class?

Patty Pelayo, 19, and Jody Kavaney, 17, smiled for Steve Hartley, the caricature artist. "I'm glad we decided to go to this party," Pelayo said, laughing at Hartley's cartoon. "People never get bored."

"WOOOH . . ."

It was almost 5 a.m.

Chris Hardin had ridden the bumper cars several times and still had enough energy to play a few more video games.

Chad Williams was caught in a rare moment of reflection as the jukebox played the Red Hot Chili Peppers' ballad, "Under the Bridge."

Shane Osborne, voted "Class Clown", won the "HOT LIPS" contest. He sat alone at a table, signing a stack of yearbooks. "Go your own way," read the farewell message on the last page.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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