Are SHS Grad Night bids unnecessarily expensive?

March 4, 2015 — by Rachel Hull and Michelle Leung

Grad Night requires hundreds of hours on the part of Grad Night committee parents — but also hundreds of dollars on the part of students.

2014 alumna Jennie Werner shouted out a combination for bingo — one number after another, uttered in rapid succession. Two of her friends stood by her side, banging their hands on the table.

She was in a casino, but it wasn’t in Las Vegas. It was at SHS, dressed up by the dozens of parents involved in creating a great final Grad Night for the Class of 2014.

Grad Night is an extravagant affair that concludes a memorable four years for many seniors. It requires hundreds of hours on the part of Grad Night committee parents — but also hundreds of dollars on the part of students.

At a maximum price of $235, Saratoga’s bids are much more expensive than the maximum of $170 at Monta Vista and $175 at both Los Gatos and Lynbrook. For its part, Cupertino High has a sweet deal: $80 as a starting price. And even Homestead, with a final bid price of $200, is cheaper.

So why are SHS’s bids so pricey?

Grad Night co-chair Kristin Gragnola suggested that since schools larger than SHS have more students, their individual bid prices aren’t so high. And this certainly holds true for schools like Monta Vista and Homestead, whose senior classes contain 500 to 700 students, as opposed to Saratoga’s 356.

But some local schools with senior classes closer in size to that of SHS have cheaper bids. If every senior attended Grad Night for the minimum bid price, Lynbrook’s committee would receive about $46,000, and Cupertino’s, just over $37,000.

SHS, on the other hand, expects to earn and spend about $64,000 — almost twice as much as Cupertino.

Gragnola said that the expenses breakdown for SHS is as follows:  activities for $44,000; decorations and electrical for $6,000; food for $6,000; bids and giveaways for $3,000; and fencing, security, memory boards, permits and miscellaneous for $5,000.

Perhaps the difference, then, lies not in the number of students, but in the quality of the Grad Nights. In years past, SHS’s committee has rented a giant slide, a zip line and carnival rides. According to Gragnola, this year’s night will boast a casino, karaoke and DJ, as well as “lots of surprises.”

Other schools’ Grad Night activities, however, seem comparable to Saratoga’s. Cupertino, for instance, offers — among other things — Segways, miniature golf, a casino, games, henna tattoo and caricature artists, a photo booth, a fire pit with s’mores and unlimited food and drinks. And this is all at a maximum of $150 per student.

Werner said that Grad Night is ultimately not about the activities; it is about reconnecting with one’s peers.

“You’re not spending the last moments at SHS with just your current closest friends, but with everyone who made your high school experience what it was, for better or for worse,” she said.

Of the 25 to 30 students every year who decide not to attend Grad Night, expense is a major factor, however. Senior Minda Lee is one of those students who decided not to attend Grad Night because of the steep price.

It’s 200 bucks to be stuck at school for how many hours? Like seven?” Lee said.

Senior Anna Sabel said that the school’s Grad Nights need not be so “over the top.”

“I think graduation ceremonies, especially the Grad Night celebration, should be — not to be super cheesy — but it should really be celebrating as a class,” Sabel said. “That’s what it’s supposed to be for. So do we really need all this special fancy stuff that we have?”

Gragnola said that Grad Night is meant to break even — and any excess money is saved for future reunions. She also said that this year’s bids are no more expensive than those from previous years dating back to at least 2008.

Still, the Grad Night committee has revenue of $64,000, an disproportionately high number for a high school celebration. It may be worthwhile to look into solutions to lessen Grad Night expenses.

For example, the committee could hire less expensive vendors, the kind other schools seem to have found.

The committee could also remove some of the less popular yet more expensive Grad Night activities such as carnival rides. Or it could take a cue from Homestead by holding fundraisers and selling items such as wreaths, cookie dough and pies to lower bid prices further — even though the income might not be significant, every little bit helps.

Of course, the Grad Night committee is a commendable group of parents who work to keep costs to a minimum. In the past, members have spent countless hours and, in some cases, even personal funds to supplement the expenses of Grad Night activities. The committee also reuses old decorations and negotiates prices with vendors, while providing scholarships to students who need financial assistance.

Sabel commended these efforts but wondered if the need for scholarships hints at a larger problem.

“Should we have to get to the point where we have to subsidize things because it’s so expensive that people can’t pay to participate in Grad Night?” she asked.

Ultimately, Grad Night is meant to be a celebration of the past four years and a place where students can celebrate in a safe, inclusive environment. Werner said that she would have gone to Grad Night “no matter the price.”  

“I think it didn’t really matter how much was spent on Grad Night,” Werner said. “My favorite part was just being in the SHS quad one last time with everyone I had spent the last four years with.”

This sentiment holds true for roughly 330 seniors who are expected to attend this year. By bringing bid prices down to the the $150 range, perhaps the school’s Grad Night could attract more students and weigh less heavily on the wallets of parents and seniors alike. 

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