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Seniors practice grad rites

After 13 grueling years counting kindergarten _ of homework, hall passes, gym classes and report cards _ high school seniors around the county are saying their farewells. Pinellas County's 15 public high schools will hold graduation ceremonies today. Some of the schools also are sending off their seniors with awards ceremonies and parties _ lots of parties. And some of the graduates have party plans of their own.

A few of the schools scheduled all-night graduation bashes for Wednesday or today, with an emphasis on fun without drugs and alcohol. Other parties, organized by students, are by invitation only, and will include relatives and teachers as well as friends.

And then there are the parties where there will be no parents or teachers in sight; and for those who want it, the alcohol probably will flow. Administrators know this, and they have spent the better part of the year educating students about the dangers of drinking and driving.

For many, the send-offs began up to a month ago _ with entire weeks devoted to the seniors, and with special breakfasts, picnics, awards assemblies and talent shows. And of course, all the schools held proms, and most sponsored "grad nights," where faculty chaperones accompanied students on nighttime trips to Disney World, when the park is closed to everyone except high school seniors.

Here are some highlights of festivities:

Tarpon Springs High

Graduates will be treated tonight to the annual "SLUG" _ Seniors Last United Gathering _ night, an alcohol-free celebration that lasts from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., senior sponsor Jerry Hourdas said.

The party, which Hourdas said is usually attended by 90 percent of the seniors, will take place at the Elks Lodge, whose members solicited donations from the community to provide food and entertainment.

"The reason we have the party is to keep the kids off the streets and keep them from drinking," Hourdas said.

The school also held a Senior Week, which featured a banquet teachers cooked for students, activities director Robert Sapashe said.

Dunedin High

Two bands and a disc jockey, complete with music videos and a karaoke show, will be part of the entertainment at tonight's after-grad bash.

School Resource Officer Ken Stevens said a board made up of students, parents and community leaders raised between $12,000 and $15,000 in cash, food and prizes from area businesses, individuals and civic organizations.

Flammer Ford in Tarpon Springs is supplying a late-model Ford Grenada for a raffle.

Countryside High

Parents worked with administrators and went door-to-door soliciting donations so they could throw a $10,000 bash Wednesday night for their graduates.

The beach theme party was to feature a reggae band on an artificial beach, hot-air balloon rides and a small fireworks display, said School Resource Officer Dave Krieger.

A 1985 Plymouth Duster was to be raffled at the alcohol-free party, Krieger said.

Seminole High

Principal Curt Geer said the school has sponsored after-graduation parties in the past, but since they weren't well attended, administrators ended the practice. Geer said the school held its traditional off-campus breakfast, which lasted all morning and then distributed yearbooks for students to sign.

Largo High

Maria Miller, a senior and president of the school's student advisory committee, said a group of seniors is planning a cruise to Mexico this summer.

Miller said she, like many other students, plans a "punch party" this weekend, where relatives, friends and teachers gather for an invitation only, somewhat formal, celebration at the graduate's house.

Other parties, on graduation night, probably will not have chaperones and will likely include alcohol, Miller said. "After graduation, people having parties will find themselves with a mess of people," she said.

But the school's Students Against Driving Drunk chapter has made an effort to educate students, and many signed contracts promising not to drink and drive, Miller said.

Clearwater High

A hypnotist entertained seniors last week, principal Ed Evans said.

Also, during "Mr. Tornado" night, female graduates got to root for their favorites as their male counterparts strolled down runways in tuxedos and bathing suits.

A committee of parents is planning a school-sponsored graduation party for the Class of 1992. "They're going to go gung-ho with it starting this summer," Evans said.

Osceola High

About 98 percent of the senior class attended a catered dinner held after graduation practice, said Dana Newberry, senior class sponsor.

The dinner featured a six-projector slide show, door prizes and a patriotic theme, Mrs. Newberry said.

East Lake High

During a breakfast at Innisbrook, seniors recognized the members of their class voted most likely to succeed, best dressed and other coveted titles, principal Bruce Baptist said.

The sophomore class bought congratulatory cakes for the seniors last week, Baptist said.

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