Project Graduation: great night, and a new tradition

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GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Project Graduation, that once-in-a-lifetime chance for graduating Glen Ridge High School seniors to enter a fantasy land of their own choosing, hand-crafted by their parents, was staged Friday, June 15, the night of the high school commencement ceremony.
The 2018 edition of an amusement-park world was based on the 2001 Disney animation movie, “Monsters, Inc.” and constructed at the Mead Terrace home of Daniel Weinstein and Amy Owens.

An assortment of spooky stuff, games and prizes awaited the graduates as a safe alternative to youthful revelry. The event was preceded by a dinner-dance at the Glen Ridge Women’s Club followed by a pool party and breakfast. Co-chairs of the night were Jennifer Ashkinaze, Tania Liddy and Kathy Weissenberger. It was the 57th annual Project Graduation. Approximately $30,000 was raised for the effort.

Fundraising began in September and set constructing started in April. All the adults involved had children graduating.
“That’s why we’re in it, for our kids,” said co-chair Liddy. “It’s stressful and a lot of work. But when they kids walk in and their faces light up, it’s worth it.”

Project Graduation is also an opportunity for parents, whose paths often cross, to work together, she said.
The completed site was open to the public for several hours following commencement while the dinner-dance occupied the graduates. On the following day, Saturday, Liddy said something new was being attempted this year.
“We’re trying our first-ever ‘next day’ event,” she said. “We’ve invited children from the lower schools to play the games and get close to the characters.”

The day after graduation is also the time when parents involved in the next Project Graduation scavenge for props, some which are already veterans of previous productions and ready for repurposing with a fresh face of chicken wire and papier mache.
Owens, an owner of the .44-acre property, said when she purchased the it nine years ago, she thought the backyard would make an ideal setting for Project Graduation. Her daughter, Gemma, graduated this year.

Owens said she had moved from a block away, loved the street, and started chipping away at the “fixer-upper.” That included removing 26 dead or dying hemlocks, regrading and seeding the land and installing a sprinkler system.

“Two others wanted Project Graduation,” she said. “I’m a real estate agent and could look up their lot sizes and they weren’t bigger than ours.”
Owens installed electrical wiring in the backyard specifically for the event. She has another daughter in ninth grade so there will be another Project Graduation in the family.

And what if parents come to her in four years and want her backyard again?
“I’m in,” Owens said.