This year’s crop of San Marino High School graduates will be rolling the dice after they collect their diplomas, but it’ll be within the confines of a game of Monopoly.
The classic board game serves as the class of ’17’s selected theme for San Marino’s storied tradition of ensuring SMHS graduates have a safe and fun night to celebrate their high school graduation. Hard at work to make it a memorable night are the volunteer parents of those seniors in addition to others in the community.
“It’s hundreds, thousands of volunteer hours,” said Pana Gelt, chair of this year’s Grad Night. “It’s more than 30,000 volunteer hours if you count the night-of.”
Those 160-plus volunteers have spent the last year planning and working in the expansive space that Wells Fargo Bank on Huntington Drive permanently sets aside on the second level of its parking garage. Aside from the Monopoly theme, the details of their work are, for the most part, classified. That’s just the nature of the annual surprise for the graduates.
The talent and craftsmanship at work is outstanding, with volunteer Art Aquirre designing sets since 2007. Taking a look at the previous years’ work and the products being made now, one would think they’re authentic props from Hasbro, Disney or any of the plethora of companies whose series and themes are borrowed each year for the celebration.
Bob Horgan, a 1958 SMHS graduate, has volunteered to help produce Grad Night every year since 1974’s Enchanted Forest theme. His own theme as a high school senior was Sayonara.
“It’s an amazing camaraderie,” Horgan said, “and it’s for a great purpose.”
Horgan, considered among the “old guard” of Grad Night volunteers, said this year would be his last.
“I wish I was a kid again,” he said, admiring the work on Monopoly this year. “This is going to be a big one.”
Grad Night began in 1955 in response to a prom night tragedy as a way to give fresh high school graduates a safe way to celebrate their milestone. Instead of trouble finding them through excessive partying and other late-night excursions that typically involve alcohol, each graduate will celebrate at Grad Night, with entertainment and dinner served by parent volunteers in the gymnasium.
The all-night event goes through 5 a.m. and the graduates aren’t allowed to leave — not that they’d want to. This effort has ensured that there have not been any post-graduation tragedies in the last 62 years.
“Nothing, because of this,” Horgan said. “There are a million different things they could get into if we didn’t bring this together.”
And, as Gelt said, the amazing thing is that the entire project is funded by donations, including from private donors and from organizations like San Marino City Club, Rotary Club of San Marino, Chinese Club of San Marino and the San Marino Police Officers Association.
“We can only spend what we raise,” Gelt said. “We don’t have any other funding sources.”
Grad Night kicks off on June 3 at around 8:15 p.m., after the graduates have had time to take photos on campus with their families.