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Grad Nite endures as Florida rite of passage

Sometimes you can stumble on a great way to break the ice.

As a board member for the Brandon Cowboys youth football and cheerleading organization, I help interview potential coaches. To help the applicants relax, I ask them: "Who was at your Grad Nite?"

The question ignites all kinds of discussions about those long-ago nights at Disney World's Magic Kingdom. What group was great, what did you wear, who hooked up?

Not to mention: How I got dumped.

Since 1972, high school seniors from around the state have flocked to the theme park on certain spring weekend nights to celebrate and party into the wee hours of the morning (10 p.m. to 4 a.m.). The tradition continues this weekend and next for thousands of seniors. Grammy-winner Ne-Yo headlines the concerts this year.

In 1982, my senior class from Tallahassee Godby High School stormed into the park to see the Pointer Sisters, Tommy (867-5309) Tutone, Bertie Higgins, Tierra and Michael Iceberg.

Admittedly, "my groups" don't compare to some from other years. The '70s included Kool & The Gang, K.C. and the Sunshine Band and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. The '80s included the Dazz Band, Night Ranger, Bobby Brown and Run DMC. In the '90s: Stevie B., EnVogue, Goo Goo Dolls, Backstreet Boys and even Britney Spears.

Although this decade featured Destiny's Child, Jessica Simpson, Mario and Fall Out Boy, recent acts don't seem quite as big. Or maybe I'm getting old.

The musical acts make up just part of the event's appeal. It may be different for this year's seniors, but back in the day I think we got a thrill from being able to roam the park unchaperoned, unsupervised and unanchored to a younger sibling (apologies to my sister). And we got a charge from being able to stay up until 4 a.m.

This year's students have the advantage of a looser dress code. For years, Disney insisted girls be in dresses or nice pants, guys in shirts and ties. Today, jeans and athletic shoes are allowed. Interestingly, you can't wear anything affiliated with a school, professional sports team, group or club.

Dancing and deejays also are more prevalent, and another change occurs next year when Grad Nite moves from the Magic Kingdom to Disney's Hollywood Studios.

I worry about tampering with tradition with that last move, but I suspect the kids will have as much fun as I did, even though I did get dumped.

I actually can show you the bench in Tomorrowland where "my girl" cut me loose to walk away with another guy from another high school .

I had no one to blame but myself because I hadn't asked her to be "my girl" (commitment phobia). Instead, I chose a no-strings-attached relationship, not realizing that works both ways.

Fortunately, I pulled myself off that bench and found another "friend" who graciously kept me company. I gotta tell you, the Haunted Mansion wouldn't have been the same without her.

How did I pull myself off that bench and recover? I had to. It was Grad Nite.

And years later, me, the girl who dumped me and the guy she went with all laughed about that night.

Hey, maybe they can have Reunion Night.

That's all I'm saying.

Grad Nite endures as Florida rite of passage 04/17/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 18, 2008 8:42am]
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