Almost 1,400 graduates attended this year's Project Graduation, a drug- and alcohol-free Charles County graduation party featuring activities ranging from volleyball to karaoke. Students also could win color TVs, mountain bikes and other door prizes.

Charles high schools celebrated two different nights last week -- students from Maurice J. McDonough, Lackey and Thomas Stone high schools attended the free festivities at Charles County Community College on Wednesday night, while Westlake and La Plata students celebrated Thursday night. The parties ran from about 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

La Plata High School had the most students attend the party, a total of 74 percent of all graduates. This was the 13th year that Charles students have participated in Project Graduation.

"Since this started in Charles County, we haven't had one serious accident or fatality associated with drugs and alcohol on graduation night," said Keith Grier, director of pupil services for Charles public schools.

The event's sponsors include the Charles County commissioners, the county Health Department, the sheriff's office, the public school system and Civista Health Inc., which operates the hospital in La Plata and other area health centers. The Chemical People, a group dedicated to reducing substance abuse among teenagers, also helps sponsor the parties.

CAPTION: Graduation Jubilation: Ecstatic students, such as Great Mills High School senior Leslie McNamara, above, were honored at commencement ceremonies across St. Mary's and Charles counties last week. LaKeisha Smith, left, sings her class song, "I Will Remember You." Below, Rachel Moyle, Great Mills's salutatorian, adjusts the medallion on valedictorian Sten-Ove Tullberg as Julie Woodburn and Kristen Williams look on before the ceremony. St. Mary's three high schools graduated 831 students and 1,283 graduated from Charles's five high schools. Charles County students celebrated their achievements last week at alcohol-free parties.

CAPTION: Latashia Baker, of McDonough High School, tries to catch cash in the air-blowing box of the Money Game during Project Graduation at Charles County Community College; she grabbed a winning bill to reap a $5 payoff. Above left, Brandon McDowell, left, and Chad Digirolamo take the karaoke stage during the McDonough party.