Most of the time, being locked in at school overnight would be a student’s worst nightmare. For graduating seniors of Edina High School, it’s something they look forward to all year.
Planning for Edina’s all-night senior party begins in earnest in October, when a group of volunteers, made up mostly of senior parents, chooses a party theme. Each year is different, and volunteers work vigorously to create an alternate universe for students inside the school.
The first party committee was formed in 1951. At that time the committee was simply a group of concerned parents who wanted a safe place for their kids to celebrate the biggest day of their young lives without going out and doing anything stupid—as high school students are occasionally wont to do. They pitched the idea of an all-night party and, without realizing it, set off a nationwide trend.
Edina is credited as the first school in the nation to create a senior party for its students. It was such a big deal at the time that in 1955 the New York Times Magazine wrote a feature on the party, and Edina’s little high school get-together became national news. Coincidentally, that same year, the biggest party prize ever was given away—a used car.
Schools began reaching out to Edina organizers after the article came out to follow their lead and create similar parties of their own. It’s a nice notch in the belt for Edina residents, but they’re so committed to their own community that they don’t pay much mind to what other schools are up to.
Back then, the party was much smaller than today. There was a theme (“Club 51,” aka Riviera), games, food, dancing, and fortune tellers, but it wasn’t the months-long planning extravaganza it is today. Back then, organizers arrived with prepared decorations to be set up after commencement, whereas now the entire school is transformed from an academic setting to a playland.
“I was in charge of decorations in 2011 when the theme was Monopoly,” says Zibby Nunn, whose son graduated that year. “One hallway was turned into a replica game board, and the commons area was a boardwalk with games, like in Atlantic City.”
The biggest draw the past few years has been a hypnotist. As the party winds down in the wee hours of the morning, he uses his skills to get inside the minds of sleepy graduates who follow his every command in front of the entire graduating class.
Troy Kerin graduated from Edina High School in 1985 and is working on the planning committee for his daughter Danika’s party this year. “One of the nice things about being in Edina is folks choose to stay close by,” Kerin says. “Knowing the tradition and the number of folks involved, it’s fun to continue each year.”
Kerin’s parents were on the EHS senior party committees both when he and his brother, class of 1987, graduated.
Nunn is another example. Her mother, Karen Tully, graduated in 1955, four years after her brother attended the very first party. When Nunn graduated in 1981, Tully chaired one of the planning committees. When Nunn’s oldest son graduated in 2011, Nunn was on the planning committee and Tully helped with decorations. When Nunn’s younger son (a current eighth-grader) graduates, Nunn and Tully plan on being right there to help out with the party again.
Most find it hard to imagine an Edina community without its all-night senior party, and there are no signs of it slowing down. In 2011, the Edina Community Foundation created a charitable giving partnership with the Edina senior class party and established a designated fund; this allows the Edina Community Foundation to accept contributions for the benefit of the event.
It’s amazing to think this extravagant party is still going strong 63 years after a simple idea came to life. More amazing is the way it has caught on in high schools across the country. Sworn to secrecy, nobody can say what this year’s theme or prizes will be. But with prize donors like the Minnesota Timberwolves, Minnesota Lynx, and US Bank, students are sure to make a good haul—although it’s doubtful anyone will be getting a car.