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For some Long Island teens, experiences replace Sweet 16, graduation parties, more

For her high school graduation, Meghan Dearstyne of

For her high school graduation, Meghan Dearstyne of Massapequa Park chose to go skydiving instead of having a traditional party. Credit: Skydive Long Island

Lou Dearstyne of Massapequa Park could have taken the less frightening way out and thrown his daughter, Meghan, a high school graduation party. Instead, he jumped out of a plane with her.

“I get a little uneasy cleaning out the gutters at the house, let alone going up 10,000 feet,” says Dearstyne, 51, who works in the finance department for a credit card company. But skydiving with Dad was what Meghan wanted to mark her graduation from Massapequa High School in 2016.

Long Island is the home of the big bash to celebrate teenage milestones, whether it’s upcoming June graduations, a Sweet 16, a quinceañera or a bar/bat mitzvah. But such festivities aren’t the right choice for every family. Other families have feted their children by taking family and friends for lunch at Oheka Castle, to a Yankees game, to a Broadway show, or on a trip to Mystic, Connecticut, the Bahamas or Israel.


Deborah Clark, 42, a stay-at-home mother from Franklin Square, told her daughter, Mia, that an over-the-top Sweet 16 costing upward of $10,000 for venue, DJ and dress wasn’t in the cards because the family already devoted thousands every year to Mia’s competitive gymnastic extracurriculars. “I told my daughter, ‘If I’m going to take out a loan, it’s going to be to send you to college,’ ” Clark says.

She says she suggested Mia take one friend with them on a less costly family cruise to Bermuda. Besides, Mia says, “I don’t really like the whole attention-on-me part of it.” A bonus was that extended family also opted to go on the cruise, which left from New York on May 12. A captain’s dinner celebrated Mia’s birthday; she wore a dark pink high-low dress. And she enjoyed jet skiing and snorkeling.

Mikaelah Gregory of Oceanside also has opted for a trip to an island for her Sweet 16 — her family has visited Atlantis in the Bahamas every summer since she was a toddler, and the Gregorys will bring four friends with her for a week beginning Memorial Day weekend. It will cost the family about $13,000 to fly everyone down and host them, but it’s to enjoy six days instead of four hours, says mother Carine Konda-Gregory, 47, a practice manager for a pediatrician.

“All of my friends are turning 16 this year,” Mikaelah says. “I didn’t want to do a Sweet 16 because we have a Sweet 16 every week.” The Bahamas are her favorite place, she says. “I totally want to share that experience with my friends.”

Ericka Uribe Carey, 50, who works at the Patchogue Library, has already asked her 12-year-old daughter, Brianna, if she wants a quinceañera party to celebrate her 15th birthday, a tradition in Latino culture. “I told her when I was 15 my dad gave us a choice to have a party or take a trip,” Carey says. “She wants to travel.” Brianna’s dream destination: Paris.

The choice Seth Newman’s family made for his bar mitzvah also entailed a plane ride and let him celebrate in shorts — they flew to Israel and participated in a tour for families marking the occasion on Masada, an ancient fortress on a rock plateau. “We just felt we wanted to do something highly memorable,” says mother Robin Gorman Newman, 58, of Great Neck, author of the 2006 book “How to Marry a Mensch” and a Broadway producer.

Dara Warshaw of St. James made the same choice for her daughter, Lily, in December. “Being in Israel was a major thing,” Dara says. “It’s the Holy Land of the Jewish people. We saw the Dead Sea, we rode camels and donkeys and made hummus.” Says Lily: “I thought it was absolutely amazing. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”


Other Long Island families have created memories closer to home. Angela Shanerman, 50, a divorce coach from East Northport, took 20 of daughter Victoria’s friends to lunch at Oheka Castle to mark her Sweet 16 five years ago. “They all got dressed up,” Shanerman says. “It was just so beautiful there. It was a very different experience.”

Maureen Kass, 54, a Seaford homemaker, treated daughter Meredith and 35 friends to tickets to Blue Man Group on Broadway when Meredith turned 16 in 2017. They rented a bus to take them to Manhattan, and they had a catered Chinese meal at their home.

Carol Vallone, 52, a teacher’s aide from Massapequa, took her daughter and five friends on an overnight trip to Mystic, Connecticut. “It was my daughter’s idea,” Vallone says of Jordan. “She did not want a big to-do.” The group spent one day at Mystic Seaport and the next day at the Mystic Aquarium and had a birthday dinner at a restaurant. “She had a blast,” Vallone says.

And Karen Neilson, 47, of Westbury, who works in finance, says her daughter has always known she would have to come up with something creative for her Sweet 16. “I told her when she was really little, ‘We’re not doing a wedding without a groom,’ ” Neilson says. Nicole opted for a Yankees vs. Boston Red Sox game on June 1.

The Neilsons paid $190 a ticket for 16 guests to be in the Jim Beam Suite, which offers indoor and outdoor viewing and includes food and drink. They’ll all be wearing T-shirts that say “All Rise” on the front, referring to Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge’s catchphrase, and “For Nicole’s Sweet 16” on the back.

CORRECTION: Dara Warshaw's hometown was incorrect in a previous version of this story.

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