In the final few weeks of the school year, Santa Monica High School students may have noticed white tents quietly popping up on the tennis courts.

While they may look inconspicuous from the outside, they mask an elaborate set that volunteers have been busy building up over the last three weeks in preparation for this year’s Grad Nite, a nearly 30-year-old Samohi tradition.

The event, which is essentially an all-night-long, on-campus party for graduating seniors, takes place on the night of their commencement ceremony.

Graduation nights often prove especially dangerous for teenagers due to increased alcohol and drug use that can result in accidents. Events like Grad Nite serve as a way to allow students to have fun and celebrate their hard work and achievements throughout high school, but do so in a safe environment.

A 501-c3 organization was formed in the early years of Samohi’s Grad Nite to help fund and organize the event. SMMUSD Board Member and Samohi parent Jennifer Smith and fellow parents Nicole Faries and Diana Oliver have been leading the charge for the last few years. While neither Smith or Faries have children who are seniors this year, they said they think it is important to step up and help make it happen for others.

“I know a lot of parents kind of click into things when their kids are in it, but it is very nice if you’re kind of going along, helping out and running it and so that when your kid is a senior you can take a step back,” Faries said. “It will be your kid before you know it, is often what I say to parents – it happens faster than you realize.”

While the concept of Grad Nite is not unique to Samohi and many other high schools host similar events, its scale and spirit set it apart.

For the first 22 years, Samohi’s Grad Nite featured a multi-story replica of a cruise ship complete with a deck, portholes and smokestacks. While the volunteer builders behind the design have since retired and the set up has been somewhat scaled down in recent years, the core concept remains.

“It’s still the cruise ship-themed party, but it had to be modified,” Faries said, explaining that the entrance has been reduced to a single large wood panel shaped and painted to look like a cruise ship with a replica of the iconic Santa Monica Pier Sign.

However, the inside is just as intricate and features a series of decorated rooms designated for a variety of activities including karaoke, dancing, carnival games with prizes, a bracelet making station, temporary tattoos, plenty of food and more.

Smith said the cost of the event, which generally ran around $100,000 prior to the pandemic, has increased in recent years due in large part to inflation. Last year’s event cost over $130,000 and was made possible in part by a donation from an anonymous donor.

While Smith and Faries said there is enough funding for this year’s event, the financial future of Grad Night depends on being able to secure more money going forward and they hope that the community will continue to rally around the tradition. Smith said nearly 50% of their budget comes from community donations and the other 50% is from ticket sales.

Tickets for Grad Night cost between $130-$160 (depending on when they are purchased) but Faries said they have scholarship and sponsorship options available for students who can’t afford them to make sure any student who wants to attend can.

In previous years, the participation rate at the event has been high with upwards of 90% of students in attendance. Grad Nite begins at 9:30 p.m. and ends at 5:00am, at which point students are given their diploma. Faries said some walk to the beach together and watch the sunrise to “cap off” their Samohi experience.

While Faries, Smith and others involved were concerned institutional memory of the event had faded when it did not happen for two years due to covid, the excitement and intrigue surrounding Grad Nite seem to be back on the rise. Faries said a freshman student even tried to sneak in last year.

While that student still has a few years to go before they can experience Grad Nite and this year’s seniors must wait until June 8, parents and other community members are invited to come by for a sneak peek this Sunday, June 4, as part of an open house from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Samohi.

The organizers are still looking for volunteers to help with the remaining set up and during the event itself. Those interested can sign up to volunteer at:

To make a donation visit:

This article was edited to correct the date of the open house. It will take place on Sunday, June 4, not Saturday.

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...