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Persephone Campbell, 17, a senior at Edgren High School, Misawa Air Base, Japan, tears up at school Tuesday while reading a note from Ashley Payne, an elementary school student who asked her not to drink and drive on prom and graduation nights.

Persephone Campbell, 17, a senior at Edgren High School, Misawa Air Base, Japan, tears up at school Tuesday while reading a note from Ashley Payne, an elementary school student who asked her not to drink and drive on prom and graduation nights. (Jennifer H. Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Patrick Pezoulas, 17, is going to the prom. Peter Kamau, 18, is looking forward to a graduation party. The Edgren High School seniors say they wouldn’t be surprised to see alcohol at both events.

“Some people say there’s nothing else to do and it’s easy to get off base,” Pezoulas said.

Alcohol may be accessible to Misawa teenagers — beer is sold in street-corner vending machines downtown — but two civilian employees who lead the base’s alcohol and drug abuse education and prevention programs are trying to convince students to celebrate sober.

“There’s a lot of people who lose their children during prom and graduation season,” Sherri Light said, referring to national trends.

Both Light and Alicia Witherspoon like Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s parent-child contract, where the teenager pledges not to drink at a party and the parent promises to pick their child up if he or she needs a ride, no immediate questions asked.

“Ours is a take on that, called the Lifesaver Promise,” Light said.

After talking to fifth- and sixth- graders at Misawa about the effects of alcohol on the brain and body, Witherspoon and Light had them each write a letter to Edgren’s 140-plus juniors and seniors asking them not to drink on prom and graduation nights.

Their penmanship appears on the back of the Lifesaver Promise cards, a pledge that reads in part: “Promise me you will not drink or do drugs or hang out with anyone that does, including accepting rides home from people who drink or do drugs.” The cards also post the numbers for on- and off-base taxis and the Misawa Community and Services Against Drunk Driving (MCSADD) service. A card was addressed to each high-schooler.

Persephone Campbell, 17, started crying when she read hers Tuesday at school. “I know the girl who wrote this. I baby-sat her,” she said. “She just asked me to think about my college and my job, not to drink, but if I do, take a taxi, and still have fun.”

For Persephone, the note was a powerful incentive to not drink: “To know that someone that little looks up to you.”

Witherspoon and Light hope to bombard the juniors and seniors with anti-alcohol messages before the prom Saturday and graduation June 9. Witherspoon had Edgren’s video communications students write and produce alcohol-awareness ads that were to air on American Forces Network television in May and June. And Witherspoon and Light show a teary video about the consequences of imbibing and then driving before handing out the Lifesaver cards.

As an extra incentive, each card has a number that will be entered into a prize drawing on prom night.

Whether the message sinks in remains to be seen, the women said, but the cards are small enough to slip into a pocket or purse. “It can remind you when you go to get your car keys to not drive if you’ve been drinking,” Light said.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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