As the San Benito High School graduation takes place today on the new multipurpose field, safety is paramount in the days ahead as graduates celebrate their launch into the next stage of life.
“Firefighters and police officers all have experienced responding to tragic calls on graduation night,” said Rick Espino, chairman for Sober Grad Night at San Benito High School. Espino was with the fire service for 34 years before retiring as a fire captain with Cal Fire eight years ago.
Concerning graduation celebrations that turn tragic, Espino said, “Instead of happy memories of their teen’s big night, parents, family and friends have to endure a lifetime of grief and the reminder of Graduation Night.”
Another emergency responder who wants people to be aware of what can happen on graduation night if people are not vigilant is Virginia Jones. As an American Medical Response operation supervisor, Jones said she has helped put on the Every 15 Minutes program at San Benito High School since 2008. Every 15 Minutes aims to teach students about the risks of driving under the influence and texting while driving.
“When you put them in the Every 15 Minutes event they get to see the effect that it has,” Jones said. “Any action that we take doesn’t only affect us, it affects our family and friends and community. It’s not just about us making a bad decision and getting hurt, it is also about the people that we can possibly hurt or kill.”
Jones explained how programs such as Every 15 Minutes have helped ease the negative effects of drinking and driving.
“With the implementation of programs like this one, things have got better,” Jones said. “When the program started it was every 15 minutes someone was being killed or injured, and now I think that it is about every 42 minutes.”
How can the community foster a safe graduation weekend for San Benito High School students this weekend and Anzar High School students on June 13?
Jones said communication and making smart choices are key.
“It’s planning ahead for what happens after the graduation ceremony,” Jones said. “And that stems from not drinking and driving, and not getting into the car with someone who has been drinking. Making sure you are wearing seatbelts and not speeding. And making sure to know someone to call if need be.”
For Espino, creating the opportunity for students to come together for a free event is also important.
“We provide a safe and sober environment on the night of their high school graduation,” he said. “Come and enjoy a night of fun, without alcohol or being on the road with drivers that may be impaired.”
Asked what advice she would give to parents going into the day and weekend of graduation, Jones recommended keeping lines of communication with their child open to create a safe space.
“If my kid called me drunk I would be angry, but I would rather have my kid call me than the coroner,” Jones said.