A year ago I wrote a column about the all night grad parties that students were attending.
It was a call for common sense, decorum and preparedness to avoid injury. Fast forward and we have a similar tradition to begin the high school year called the “sunset party.” It’s a bush party that happens the night before the first day of classes and involves a lot of underage drinking.
I wanted to discuss this because the public only hears about these things when they go terribly wrong. A few years back there was a stabbing at a sunset party and a young person died as a result. There’ve been incidents of older (uninvited) strangers showing up looking for fights, and let’s not forget the risk of sexual assault and overdoses. Wow — doesn’t that all sound like a fun time? Uh, no.The reality is though that these kinds of incidents don’t seem to mar the idea or tradition of the annual bush parties, and perhaps add to the sense of adventure and lore of attending.
Prior to the event, parents were emailed by the school to inform them that the “sunset party” isn’t a sanctioned event and doesn’t reflect the core values of the school. Parents were asked to dissuade their children from going and reminded all that the chance of harm was significant. Public agencies like the RCMP and Penticton Regional Hospital are also against the parties. The school did what it could but I don’t think it had a lot of influence.
Yup, the party went off as planned. It was held waaaaaaay up in the bush. Normally, there’d be a huge bonfire but due to the fire ban the kids opted to rent a generator (for which they shared the cost) and string up Christmas lights around the chosen site. This show of maturity in light of the brazen disrespect for the law is an interesting contrast. That cockiness and self assuredness in young people is both something to fear and admire. These kids aren’t stupid — they’re young.
Getting up to the location is not fun. The road is treacherous at the best of times, let alone in the pitch dark. There’s no cell service (or spotty at best), and no emergency contingency plans — except for relying on each other.
“I wasn’t drinking,” said one young girl. “The only reason I went was to make sure my friends didn’t get hurt. I held them up and talked to them.”
While I don’t necessarily agree with this particular type of support (it makes me sad that anyone drinks so much that they need to be held up), but I’m a firm believer in watching out for your friends and having their back. So kudos to this young lady.
“I just wanted to be a part of it,” a young man told me. “It’s my grad year and this is the kickoff. I don’t want to miss anything.”
This to me is the more typical truth. The fear of missing out. The need to belong and participate. This is a human reality that hasn’t changed since the beginning of time.
The party was eventually shut down by the RCMP who attended later that evening. I spoke with Const. Grandy who said the youth co-operated with their request to disperse and that “two highly intoxicated females” were transported to the hospital.
The sunset/sunrise parties are an open secret in the community and have become tradition at the beginning and end of the school year. Is it all about fun? A rite of passage? I don’t know, but I do know that if a kid wants to attend, they’ll find a way. Luck was on their side this time and I’m thankful nothing major happened as it could have easily been the other way.
Have a good school year and for heaven’s sake, make good choices and stay safe!