Project Graduation leadership changes; mission remains the same

Project Graduation leadership changes; mission remains the same

For 31 years John Hayden and the Charles County Citizens for a Substance Free Youth have made sure Charles County Public Schools (CCPS) graduates have a safe, drug, alcohol and tobacco-free party after graduation. It’s called Project Graduation, and since it was started, there has not been a drug- or alcohol-related fatality involving a CCPS graduate on graduation night.

Hayden recently passed the Project Graduation torch to CCPS and its partners, but not before making one final contribution — a $1,600 check – to help fund the event he spearheaded so long ago. After 31 years, Hayden has retired from graduation party planning, leaving the tasks of raising money and finding photographers, air tattoo artists, DJs, mechanical bulls, door prizes and arcade games to CCPS.

Hayden presented his check, which represented his group’s remaining funds, during a kickoff Project Graduation breakfast on Feb. 28 that doubled as an opportunity to honor Hayden and the Charles County Citizens for a Substance Free Youth. Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy announced the Charles County Commissioners continued support for Project Graduation and presented a citation to Hayden thanking him for his dedication to Charles County’s youth. Now, multiple groups are partnering to fill one man’s shoes. Superintendent of Schools Kimberly Hill pointed out to Hayden that it was taking a roomful of people to replace him.

It was difficult to let go, Hayden said, but knowing the school system, sheriff’s office and college are committed to keep Project Graduation going, made it easier. “I am going to miss it dearly,” Hayden said of the event some of his children and grandchildren have attended. “This is a community-based program. I led, but without each of you, it would not happen,” Hayden said.

Cassie Vaughn, a 2012 Thomas Stone High School graduate, talked about her memories at Project Graduation. She called it a last hurrah for classmates moving on to other places. “It’s good clean fun that doesn’t result in trouble,” she said.

The 32nd annual Project Graduation is planned for June 1, 2 and 3. So far more than 26 agencies, groups and individuals have donated funds or volunteered to help with this year’s parties. Following Hayden’s retirement announcement last year, Hill and Sheriff Troy Berry began contacting community groups, businesses and agencies to join the effort. Project Graduation, which is held three consecutive nights after each school’s graduation, costs more than $50,000 and requires nearly 100 volunteers per night. So far, donors have contributed $37,500 toward the 2017 goal.

The Sheriff and Bill Comey, vice president of the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) division of student and instructional support, also presented checks at the kickoff breakfast. Both agencies provide in-kind services, including police security and the party location. Last year, the sheriff’s office provided 476 hours of time, at a cost of $19,000, to ensure graduations and Project Graduation are safe and memorable milestones, Berry said. CSM annually hosts the party in its physical education building (PE). The Kiwanis arrange for food donations for the event.

The list of donors and volunteers is growing, but more are needed, said Jenn Conte, CCPS coordinator of student intervention programs and the 2017 Project Graduation.

For more information on Project Graduation, to volunteer or to make a tax deductible donation, call Conte at 301-934-7326 or email

The following are the 2016 Project Graduation Partners:

Platinum Level Partners

($10,000 or more)

Charles County Public Schools

Gold Level Partners


Charles County Commissioners

Charles County State’s Attorney’s Office

Silver Level Partners


Kiwanis Club of Charles County

Bronze Level Partners


Charles County Retired School Personnel Association

Charles County Department of Health

La Plata Community Foundation, Inc.

Greater Waldorf Jaycees

Charles County Sheriff’s Office


Charles County NAACP

Friends of Project Graduation


Bob Hall, LLC

College of Southern Maryland

Mr. and Mrs. Walter Coy

Knights of Columbus

Jacqueline and James Kersey

La Plata Lion’s Club

VFW#10081 Ladies’ Auxiliary

VFW #10081 Southern Maryland Memorial Post

Xerox Corporation USA

Maryland Independent

American Legion Auxiliary Inc. Post 82

Sons of American Legion Post 82

Charles County Women’s Club

La Plata 2 n 1 Club

Timothy and Cheryl Poole

Mary McMahon

About CCPS
Charles County Public Schools provides 26,400 students in grades prekindergarten through 12 with an academically challenging education. Located in Southern Maryland, Charles County Public Schools has 36 schools that offer a technologically advanced, progressive and high quality education that builds character, equips for leadership and prepares students for life, careers and higher education.

The Charles County public school system does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or disability in its programs, activities or employment practices. For inquiries, please contact Dr. Patricia Vaira, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 Coordinator (students) or Pamela K. Murphy, Title IX/ADA/Section 504 coordinator (employees/ adults), at Charles County Public Schools, Jesse L. Starkey Administration Building, P.O. Box 2770, La Plata, MD 20646; 301-932-6610/301-870-3814. For special accommodations call 301-934-7230 or TDD 1-800-735-2258 two weeks prior to the event.

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