For Montclair Local

Lorraine Ghibaudi, a research scientist who co-founded Montclair’s Project Graduation as a way for MHS graduates to safely celebrate their milestone, died peacefully in her sleep on Mother’s Day, May 10, in Mashpee, Mass. She was 85.

Montclair High School graduation 2020 comes in two parts: a virtual celebration held on June 24 and three in-person graduations on July 9, due to the COVID-19 crisis; Ghibaudi will be there, in spirit. 

But Project Graduation will not take place then, but rather later, when organizers feel it would be safe. 

Despite that, her mother would be proud at how much it has meant to students, Ghibaudi’s daughter, Valerie Machinist, said.  

“She was always invested in volunteering and charity work, she felt strongly about giving back to her community and equitable access to education, with great teachers and great principals for all,” Machinist said.

Ghibaudi served for years as a PTA mom and touched many lives at Nishuane, Hillside, Glenfield, and Montclair High schools. 

“My mother had a chronic case of volunteerism,” Machinist said. “She had trouble saying no, be it to projects at St. Cassian’s Church in Montclair, Christ the King R.C. Church in Mashpee, or nonprofit organizations. When I attended Columbia Teacher’s College in New York City, my mother noticed that my Russian suite-mate did not have as many possessions or furnishings as I did, and she completely outfitted the rest of the room to match what I had.”

Most of her daughter’s friends and neighbors knew her simply as “Mrs. G.,” who loved the Montclair school system.

Her two grandchildren, Alexis, 10, and Cameron, 6,  called her Nene. She spent hours playing Barbie and board games with them, Machinist said.   

Lorraine Ghibaudi and her daughter Valerie at MHS graduation, June 1991. COURTESY VALERIE MACHINIST

Ghibaudi was employed for more than 30 years as a research scientist for Shering-Plough in Kenilworth, specializing in cardiovascular drugs and the negative health effects of obesity. 

A longtime resident of Montclair, she moved to Mashpee in 2006 to be nearer to her family. She and her late husband, Octavio Ghibaudi Jr., had a summer home there.

Montclair’s Project Graduation, which she helped establish in 1991, was designed to be a “safe, alcohol/drug-free celebration as a positive rite of passage for all Montclair High School Graduating Seniors,” according to that website. 

The program is one of many Project Graduations nationwide; the first began in Maine in 1980. The federal government gave seed money to states across the nation in 1989 to allocate to schools for the project.

In Montclair’s version of the event, there would be food and activities such as bungee-jumping, swimming, and sports. At the end of the night, the students were bused back to town, sometimes to the high school, sometimes to the Salvation Army for a pancake breakfast.

The students were bused with police and fire ambulance escorts throughout Montclair to a secret location after the graduation ceremony ended, usually to a sports complex or entertainment venue. 

Besides her daughter and grandchildren, Ghibaudi is survived by her son-in-law, Brian Machinist, sister, Eleanor Biemer, and her sister’s husband, Bob. 

A private virtual viewing and funeral service was held under the direction of Allwood Funeral Home in Clifton on May 15, with interment in Calvary Cemetery in Paterson. 

A celebration of Ghibaudi’s life will be held at a later date, when the family feels that large gatherings are safe again.