A selfless act will be the highlight of many graduation memories

By Denise Ryan, Vancouver Sun June 1, 2015

Parm Chohan has her long black hair tied up in a loose bun. She wears leggings and a big, soft T-shirt, the kind of clothing that’s comfy for exam writing, which is what she’s been doing mostly these last few days — calculus just this morning. Her perfectly polished, shell-pink fingernails are the only signs that remain from grad night, just days ago.

The night began with a catered dinner dance at Newlands Golf Course, followed by a 1 a.m. boat cruise in the moonlit waters around Stanley Park. For $60, nearly 300 students on the boat cruise danced until sunrise, without alcohol or the encumbrance of chaperones. It was a night to celebrate, share some teary farewells and not think about what lies ahead, the unknowable journey into adulthood and responsibility, whether life will hand them gifts or disappointments, dreams fulfilled or unexpected twists of fate.

For Chohan, who hopes to get into medical school one day, grad season has already been “bittersweet,” filled with final exams and final thoughts: She will miss her friends when she goes to Kwantlen next year.

The boat cruise was an opportunity to forget such concerns. The DJ was hitting it, and the night was punctuated with raffle draws for prizes the kids had worked all year to collect. The prizes, donated by local businesses, included gift cards, and movie passes. Every win would get the crowd wildly cheering until the music started again.

Chohan, who describes herself as “quiet” and “not one of the popular crowd,” said she was surprised when right at prime time on the dance floor, the DJ stopped playing and called her up to the stage. Also called up were two kids she didn’t really know, Ryan Bullen and Channelle Collins. Their names had been drawn for the evening’s top prize, the chance to win a car.

The car draw is something of a legend in Cloverdale and Surrey. Every year, Jonker Auto Group donates two cars, one to Clayton Heights secondary, and one to Chohan’s school, Lord Tweedsmuir. The prize is an incentive to encourage kids to choose dry celebrations during grad season, something Karen and Karel Jonker dreamed up after an alcohol-fuelled accident took the life of a young teen at nearby Stokes Pitt in 1997.

Over the years, said Lord Tweedsmuir principal Sukh Rai, the popularity of the dry grad celebration has increased, in large part due to the donated prizes, and of course, the car raffle. Since 1998, Jonker Auto Group has given away 48 cars.

A few days after the boat cruise, the car, a spit-polished 2001 Nissan Sentra, was rolled up to Lord Tweedsmuir school. Chohan, Bullen and Collins were escorted out. A large crowd of Grade 12s and dozens of staff came to watch the ritual.

“We each got to pick an envelope with a key,” said Chohan. Collins picked first, she picked second. Bullen was last.

Collins climbed in, turned the ignition but the car didn’t start. When Chohan tried, it started.

She sat in the car, stunned. She had won. Bullen didn’t even have a chance to try. He and Collins would each take a $400 consolation prize, also from Jonkers.