memorial mulberry tree
MEMORIES - Jennifer Colson and Judy Peckler under the tree dedicated to their family members killed by a drunk driver. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

The mulberry tree on the lawn in front of Los Gatos High School is a reminder to Judy Peckler, 78, about the importance of the annual dry post-graduation party.

The tree is dedicated to her only son, her husband and her youngest daughter, who were killed when they were hit by a drunk driver on their way to Tahoe in 1997.

“I’m lucky I had them,” she said. “They were amazing people.”

She’d already been involved in planning the drugs- and alcohol-free event before that. And now her 52-year-old daughter Jennifer Colson (LGHS Class of 1990) is taking a starring role in organizing this year’s.

construction for Grad Night
The preparations for Grad Night are quite labor intensive. (Submitted)

“It’s one of the most fun memories that I have,” Peckler said of attending her grad party. “Even at this age. And a lot of people at the end feel the same way.”

Colson said seniors need a safe place to hang out together one final time.

“Kids do want to be together after graduation, as their last hurrah,” she said. “The people who leave early miss out on what is a really cool memory.”

The event will feature a massive slide, hairdressing and fortune-telling stations, and a big casino, among other events.

Exiting into the next chapter of their lives as the sun comes up is nothing short of a magical moment, Peckler added.

But to get to that point takes an army of volunteers.

Parents help assemble amazing props out of cardboard “to really transform this school campus into another world,” Colson said, adding, “—we’ve got a (Virtual Reality) room.”

The big mystery everyone is wondering about is: What’s this year’s theme?
“It’s a secret now,” Colson said, keeping her lips sealed-tight on this point.

Peckler said one of her all-time favorites was “Back to the Future.”

Volunteers are sworn to keep things classified, until it’s revealed on Graduation Day.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of hard work to complete.

“Mid-May to after graduation, it’s just this demand for volunteers to come and pull everything together,” Colson said, explaining that each parent or guardian makes a memory board for their senior to hang in the Senior Museum area. “It’s included with the price of your ticket.”

Grad Night planning
DYNAMIC DUO – Colson and Peckler take a break from Grad Night planning Friday. (Drew Penner / Los Gatan)

Every year, this is one of the most fun things for the students, as they have to scour the walls to find the one with their photos plastered all over it.

“They take their memory board when they leave,” Colson said.

Grad Week begins June 3, culminating on June 7 with the outdoor graduation ceremony.

“It’s just a beautiful, beautiful ceremony,” Peckler said.

singing at the school
BELTING IT OUT – Organizers say the kids who don’t come will miss the casino, fortune telling and teacher band. (Submitted)

Then, Grad Night begins at 10:30pm and continues through the right—right until 6am.

Once again, there will be a teacher band to serenade the students.

Tickets cost $250, and scholarships are available.

They usually get 90% attendance, but they’re hoping to do even better this time.

“We would love to have 100% attendance and keep all this class of kids together on that night,” Peckler said. “I just want this to continue.”

volunteering at the graduation party
POPPIN’ – To keep kids safe on the big night, nearly 300 parent volunteers are needed. (Submitted)

But, says Colson, it does take a community.

Specifically, they need to fill 280 chaperone spots for the night-of.

“It’s parent-driven,” Peckler said. “It turned into a very elaborate event.”

To sign-up to volunteer for Grad Night contact Jennifer at [email protected] or 408-489-9994

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Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].


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