Collierville celebrates a one-of-a-kind Project Graduation

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The Collierville community came together on Thursday to make sure that 647 high school students had a memorable finale to their senior year. 

Donning masks and confined to their vehicles, seniors and their families filtered into the Collierville High School campus through three entrances to collect their caps and gowns during the annual Project Graduation celebration.

Most decorated their cars with colorful collegiate logos, balloons and tassels. Every senior was given a $20 gift card and a $10 card to Stix Restaurant.

A random drawing was also held and every senior received a gift donated from a local business. Items like a television, mini fridge, Apple Watch, microwave and much more were given out by around 25 volunteers. 

Food was provided to each student by the Collierville Commissary. Walmart donated 1,400 cookies and the PTSO bought Smoothie King for everyone in attendance. 

The Project Graduation workers manned their stations from 8-11 a.m. and 1-4 p.m. 

Several PTSO members, including Chairperson Pam Strietelmeier, were the architects behind this year’s unique celebration. 

“This was supposed to happen for these seniors,” she said, referring to the school year being cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “They lost so much. It is their last hurrah.” 

The Collierville Schools maintenance staff lined each of the roadways leading to the school with individual head shots of all of the graduates.

They began placing all 647 signs at 5 a.m. 

“The community really stepped up. They really got involved,” said Strietelmeir, who helped raise more than $3,000 in three days in order to help finance the gift cards. 

Strietelmeir, who’s son Logan was in the graduating class, said the PTSO met with CHS Principal Roger Jones III on April 21 to discuss Project Graduation efforts.

A plan was swiftly finalized a week later. 

“We had to work fast,” she noted. 

Traffic was steady on Thursday, with all but around 20 students showing for the event.

Groups from First Baptist Church cheered the seniors and Strietelmeir said the caravan went off with very few hiccups. 

Afterward, she found herself sitting on a curb, looking at the head shot of her son and a longtime family friend.

She packed up her son’s sign while absorbing the finality of the moment. 

“These are special kids,” she said. “They deserve this.” 

Project Graduation is a national program that originated in 1979.

It began as a response to the increased number of casualties that were occurring around the graduation season due to drugs and alcohol.

Dragon Level Sponsors for the event were Catholic Church of the Incarnation and Republic Roofing and Restoration.

Maroon Level Sponsors were the Collierville Twentieth Century Club, Maureen Fraser, Carrie Morre with Allstate Insurance and Team Waste.

White Level Sponsors were Custom Fence, Nail & Spa, Jimmy Hall, Lara Kirby, Nagini Ache, the Gunter Family and the Strietelmeier Family.

Other contributors include: Frost Bake Shop, Pepsi Beverages Collierville, Sign Matter Inc., CHS Alumni Association, Walmart, Booya’s Memphis Pizza Cafe, McAlister’s Deli, Town of Collierville, The Collierville Herald-Independent, Curtis Printing and Signs, Red Bardes and Simply Done Catering and Events.

School Board Member Wanda Chism’s granddaughter, Sydney Hall, is going to Butler in Indianapolis to major in Ballet/Dance.
School Board Member Wanda Gibbs’ grandson, Colton Burress, is going to U.T. in Martin where his sister is studying to become a doctor.

Photos generously donated by Ruth Goodman