SALT LAKE CITY — It's graduation season. And that means grad parties are in full swing.
During the next week the majority of Utah's graduating high school seniors are expected to take part in safe, supervised and often elaborate school-sponsored parties, a tradition born of a want for celebration and to keep kids off the roads following graduation.
Alec Moyer, who graduated Thursday from Cyprus High School, said he was planning on attending his school's party because of the food and, more importantly, the mechanical bull.
"I think that's what sold me on it," he said.
Alex Brower, also from Cyprus, said she wanted to go to the party to see her "best friend since seventh grade" perform with her dance company and for the bittersweet experience of being with all of her friends before they move on to jobs and college.
"It's one last time before we're done forever," she said.
Organizers at Cyprus High set up the party at the school and, unlike most high schools, the event was open to all grade levels. Parent Teacher Student Association president Jolynn Taylor said the decision to stay close to home was made to keep the cost down and to keep kids safe.
"It keeps costs down and it's a little closer to the kids so they don't have to travel as far when they're leaving at 2 or 3 in the morning," Taylor said.
Provo High School held its graduation last week and in celebration bused seniors to Boondocks Fun Center in Draper. PTSA president Leslie Rife said for years the graduation party was held at the school, but last year organizers decided to bus students to a local business.
She said leaving the school was a positive change for both students and parents, providing a wider range of things to do and easing the burden of parent and community volunteers.
"The kids had a lot of different activities," Rife said. "There was a lot more planning and it was a lot more work, actually, when it was held at the school."
In the past few years, several schools have elected to hold their parties off site. Riverton High held its party at Boondocks for the sixth time in as many years. East High seniors will commemorate their educational milestone at Jupiter Bowl in Park City, and on Thursday night, several Jordan School District schools threw their parties at recreation centers around the valley.
West Jordan High held its party at the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center. PTSA president Jill Smith said the location's existing services — like an indoor pool and basketball courts — were a good start to the entertainment options brought in by organizers.
"It really makes it convenient when you have all these amenities in one place," Smith said. "You can entertain pretty much any type of kid."
But those amenities don't stop planners from making their own additions to the events. The PTSA presidents contacted by the Deseret News said they would be providing food and prizes as well as bringing climbing walls, mechanical bulls, photo booths, illusionists, inflatable games, performers and disc jockeys to their respective events.
"It's a big deal," said Copper Hills PTSA president Laura Fotheringham. "We're expecting between 70 and 75 percent of the graduating class."
Even without the amenities of a recreation center, Taylor listed many of the same activities as other schools when describing Cyprus' party, as well as "all the food the kids can eat." She said the school was expecting between 250 and 300 students to participate, compared to slightly more than 200 last year.
"It's a great place for these kids to be," she said. "To know they're not going to be drinking or getting into trouble, from a mom's perspective I think it's great for them."
Rife said her children are "pretty good kids" and she would trust them to not get into trouble with or without a school-sponsored activity. But it's still comforting to know where they are and that adults would be present.
"You never know," she said. "They maybe aren't participating (in risky behavior) but some of their friends are. It's good to know when they're with a good group of kids in a safe space."
Each school PTSA president contacted by the Deseret News expected the majority of seniors to participate in their school-sponsored events.