Each year as school comes to a close, parents of Great Neck South High seniors gift their students with an amazing party as a way to thank them for being so studious—and this year was no exception.
Parents used their imaginations to transform the small gym into Millennium New Year’s Eve in Times Square, since most of the Class of 2018 was born in the year 2000.
Students were transported into the celebration through a replica of a New York City subway car, inhabited by a stuffed life-size hobo holding a brown paper bag, to find a room filled with fun games, delicious food and a DJ playing dance music.
The event was organized by the PTA, along with cochairs Vicki Vlantis, Susan Seidita and Laura Gal. Gal oversaw the fundraising, while Seidita and Vlantis worked on the theme and elaborate decor, as parents have done for the past two decades to surprise their kids.
“It’s a tradition to end the year in a fun environment where the kids can play games in a nonformal setting and they can all be together one last time—with no dates, no pressure, just fun,” said Vlantis.
“It’s such a nice thing in this crazy world,” agreed Marvin Anchin, the creative genius behind this year’s realistic sculptures of the hobo, the well-known Naked Cowboy who performs for tourists in Times Square and the green M&M that welcomes customers to the eponymous sweet shop.
The artist and retired art teacher, who began volunteering with his own daughter’s party the very year these seniors were born, explained why he comes back year after year.
“Parents care so deeply about their kids,” said the 37-year teacher. “They have nurtured them and watched them go through school and kvell with pride from all of the amazing things they do as you guide them through their education and see them blossom. Parents watch their kids flourish and, by giving them this party, they thank their kids for being so great—and they’re telling them that they’ll be with them through college and life. I’ve been doing this since 2000, and every year everyone gives it back to the kids for being so terrific.”
One of the parents, Matt Dienstag, owns a lumber company and generously donated building supplies.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do it without him,” noted Vlantis, who said another parent, Elsa Ma, was the mastermind behind the murals, and Larry Chaleff built the subway car on a Sunday with the help of some other parents.
All of the volunteers were parents of seniors, aside from Anchin; Joe Renta, whose child graduated last year and returned to help with construction; and Joe Friedman, an engineer, who made sure everything was built safely.
“We did a lot throughout the year and the last month we were being parents more than volunteers,” said Vlantis, who shared that a nice bonus was how the parents were able to bond with each other while preparing for the party.
“We’re very grateful to the administration and the custodial staff for all of their support,” said Vlantis. “Without them, we could not have made this a reality.”
One parent, Staci Solomon, who’s also a teacher in the district, contacted area businesses that the kids have grown up patronizing, and these establishments graciously donated all of the food to the party, including Gino’s of Great Neck, Gino’s of NHP, Gaby’s Pizza, Centre Pizza, Francesca’s Pizza, Mario’s Pizza, Napoli’s Pizza, Mama Theresa’s, Iavarone Bros, Papa Ciro’s, Anthony’s Coal Fire, Luigi’s Italian Restaurant, Dominick’s Deli, Bareburger, Greek Xpress, Opa Grille, Senor Nacho, Old Trading Post, Omega Diner, New Hyde Park Diner, Bagel Man, North Shore Farms, Slims, Best Bagels, Sushi Palace, Ren Wen, Jing Fu House, McDonald’s, White Castle, The Gourmet Bakery, Dunkin’ Donuts, Crawfords Coffee Café, Little Neck Beverage, CVS, ShopRite, Target, Best Yet, 16 Handles and Mr. Wish.
An interesting twist for Anchin this year was that he had a senior from a nearby school district help him with his sculptures.
“I was lucky enough to have a student intern from The Wheatley School help me create the sculptures,” noted Anchin. “Ironically, her school was doing the same theme. Their party was a few days later and we were able to share some of our decorations with them. She was surprised that the sculptures she helped create were suddenly at her party.”
So, two groups of high school students were able to reap the benefits from all of the hard work.
“The kids had the best time,” said Vlantis. “Most of them stayed until the end, and they all had a great time. Different kids were mixing together. It was really nice to see them all together.”
Most of the seniors attended this year’s event and it exceeded what they had heard about the party.
“It was beyond my expectations,” said senior Silvana Seidita. “All seniors from every group gathered together for one last time and had the best night. It definitely ended my senior year on a high note.”