As the Tech World Turns: Keeping Senior Galas Safe and Maximizing Fun

By Peter Bernstein June 19, 2012

I am going to date myself by disclosing that I am the delighted parent of two amazing millennials. A few years ago I had the pleasure of being the head of security of their respective senior gala parties when they graduated from Ramsey High School in northern New Jersey.  

A bit of history is in order. For those not familiar with the tradition of senior galas, you might wish to take notes. Almost three decades ago a group of teenagers in Ramsey went out on graduation night and were killed in a car crash where alcohol consumption was the culprit. Parents decided that the senior classes’ last night together should be fun, and conducted in an environment that was alcohol free. The result was a yearly all-night party thrown by the parents of the graduating class right after graduation.  

While many U.S. communities have senior galas, in the case of Ramsey – after a year of planning and with full secrecy about the party’s theme which only becomes known to the students upon their entrance to the party area – the old gymnasium (below) is transformed. And it is all done by the parents as the work of numerous committees turns plans into reality.

This is all possible thanks to generous donations from the community. There were prizes, games, great food and incredible entertainment. The price to attend thus kept reasonable, and no graduate is denied admission based on financial need.

Needless-to-say a great time was had by all, and I will avoid stating which of the two I participated in was better since they were both extraordinary in their own way. I can say anecdotally that one of my fondest memories was of a hypnotist getting a group of seniors to sing the Martian national anthem in Martian at 3:00AM. 

Aside from the planning and execution by the parents, the way the logistics worked was as follows. Students came to school graduation morning with back packs containing clothing for the party.  Security searched the back packs, and stored them in a secure place. The big rule was no alcohol or drugs were allowed. If found it disqualified you from attending. In addition, if you wanted to leave security had to contact your parent to tell them you were departing, and anyone who left was not allowed back in. Windows and doors were patrolled to keep the party inside and unwanted visitors out. 

How technology helped make a night to remember

So what does all of this have to do with technology? Actually, a lot. The world is a different place than just a few years ago. It goes almost without saying that this could not be done without the use of spreadsheets, word processing, photo editing, scheduling, project management, and other software. However, given the accelerating of new technology adoption in the intervening years since I did this, I thought about what I might do now to improve the customer experience in the context of security and having fun? Here are a few thoughts for those involved in the planning and execution of such events.

Let them keep the smartphones. We confiscated cellphones to prevent communications from those inside with those who might wish to sneak in or sneak in illicit stuff. However, given the advent of smartphones, and the liberal use of large screens around the party, not allowing the seniors to post videos or even stream live video of party seems quaint.  

Video surveillance.  We did not have it. I am happy to report that on my watch the worst thing that happened was an accidently pulled fire alarm. That said, it seems to me that a few well-placed cameras could save a lot of shoe leather and angst. As an aside, I also think it might have saved some three-fingered discounts of prizes and keepsakes. The mere awareness of video surveillance would be a great deterrent and mitigate unnecessary emotional distress. This is not an embrace on my part of big brother, but rather a case where it is better to be safe than sorry.

Instant messaging.  IM is a terrific augmentation for walkie talkies, especially in very noisy venues.In fact, that goes for using many of the capabilities of smartphones, after all they vibrate to alert you of incoming missiles.  

Interactive gaming systems and Karaoke everywhere.  Aside for the must have money tornado machine and casino tables, the most popular activities that did not involve live entertainment were video games and multimedia Karaoke. I can’t remember how many young ladies dressed up and had a video of them singing “It’s Raining Men,” or guys getting into Village People gear to sing “In the Navy.” Let’s just say there was a long line for hours. Again, having the ability to transfer this to the biggest screen in the place as it was happening would have been fabulous. And, now it can be downloaded for instantaneous sharing on social networks.

QR Scanning.  All of those prizes stacked up in all kinds of places with questions as to who got what. Tag it. Match the winner with the prize. What a concept. 

Photo Scanning.   This can speed up the admissions process by orders of magnitude.

Stored Video and Social Media. Not much to explain here but various retrospectives created by the parents (including a nice feature of trying to match people with their baby pictures) no longer to be given as discs. The savings from putting this online and as a means of giving access to those who could not afford the discs, really a substantial. It allows tight budgets to be spent elsewhere and gives everyone who attended the chance to share in as much as possible of the event.

Creating priceless moments

Without casting aspersions on communities who have outsourced senior galas — hold them some place other than your high school, hire a company to handle the logistics, etc. — if your town does not have a tradition for a party on campus you might wish to consider this. Yes, it is a ridiculous amount of hard work with volunteers who have increasingly less time to devote to such things, and obviously everyone has opinions about what to do and how to do it. In addition, getting community support for what is an expensive under-taking is challenging given current economic conditions. However, there are two things to keep in mind. 

First, it is possible to create a venue and keep it secure in a manner that is optimized for the creation of joyous memories for all involved. In fact, technology when used correctly can turn a great event into something remarkable. Second, I know from experience that it is hard to imagine a better gift for your graduate and their friends. This is the ultimate customer experience, and it is given with love and the return on investment is priceless.  




Edited by Braden Becker
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