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Mardi Gras event held at Hastings High School

People gathered under the bridge in the HHS commons to catch Mardi Gras beads being thrown to them. Star Gazette photos by Kathy Prange

Last week, Hastings area families and youth celebrated a festival that often goes hand in hand with the French-influenced New Orleans: Mardi Gras.

The annual event is a longtime tradition at Hastings High School. Organized and hosted by the HHS French program, it’s a way to have some fun while exposing the community to and raising some money for the French program.

Last Tuesday, March 4, the high school commons filled with people.

“We had a much bigger turnout than we expected,” said HHS French teacher Erica Petersen.

Petersen and fellow French teacher Jo Dougherty took over the Mardi Gras event last year after former teachers Brian and Sue Drummond retired. The Drummonds helped launch the event in 1991 after a few students asked for a Mardi Gras party.

Now it’s a popular annual event. These days, it’s mostly organized and run by students in the French Honor Society. The officers this year are Mikaela Vogland, Jacob Nowlan, Courtney Ommen, Kayla Smith, Paige Ahrens, Alaina Mattimiro and Avery Marshall.

“Besides the many students and parent volunteers, they were instrumental in the success of Mardi Gras this year,” Petersen said.

“They have run multiple events and also thought of new events this year and have carried them out just beautifully.”

Just five to 10 minutes after opening the doors, the lines for tickets were already 20 to 30 feet long, Petersen said. Some people stayed the entire evening.

“I think people had a good time,” she said. “The commons were full most of the night.”

The Mardi Gras king and queen were seniors Andrew LaBelle and Morgan Shepherd. They were selected by a random drawing; all the seniors in the French Honor Society put their names in a hat and two were drawn.

Most of the money raised at the event is used to pay for the event itself. This year there were some extra funds, though, and Petersen said the question now is how it will be allocated. Some possibilities include funding scholarships to restart a French travel program, or sponsoring the trips to Concordia Language Village for students who wouldn’t normally be able to afford them.

“The travel is something we feel strongly about,” Petersen said.

Regardless of the final decision, all the money raised by Mardi Gras will stay in the HHS French program.

Peterson thanked the community for coming out and supporting the French program. HHS is the only school in the state that hosts a community Mardi Gras party, she said, and it’s a unique event and a highlight of the year for the students as well.