A swarm of fresh-faced teenagers stand huddled anxiously at the front of the hall, decked out in black and white, ties and bows, sparkly belts and high heels.

Girls tug at their skirts and boys flatten their hair and adjust their collars.

They look nervous.

These F.H Collins Grade 12 students have every right to be. It’s Saturday night and the Elks Lodge Hall is completely packed with 15 tables seating over 300 smiling seniors filling the holiday-festooned room.

“As soon as Grace is done you’ll start serving,” instructs Bev Fairful, the teacher representative for the F.H. Collins grad class of 2009.

Fairful points to the white-tablecloth-covered tables lining the centre of the hall and directs the 27 grads to serve the seniors by taking two menus at a time and returning with their plates.

There isn’t much time for questions, it’s 5:30 and the hall is a hubbub of activity. Plates are adorned with butter and buns and students mill about with pitchers of water as volunteers usher in steaming hot trays from the Whitehorse General Hospital and Gadzoosdaa Student Residence.

This is the 34th year F.H. Collins, partnered with the Elks Lodge and Whitehorse Lions Club to host the annual community seniors’ dinner. The money raised will be used by the F.H. Collins Substance Free Grad Class of 2009 to help offset the cost of grad ceremonies and after-ceremony activities designed to reduce the use of substances during grad weekend.

For grads Delanie Prysnuk and Kelsey McHugh, the frenzy of serving is about to begin. Prysnuk says she is eager to mingle with people over the course of the evening while McHugh looks forward to the serving and “a few laughs”.

“It makes me proud,” says performer and Elks member Hank Karr, who will be performing later in the evening with three other band members. “It always chokes me up watching the students dancing with the seniors.”

Karr and band will be entertaining the audience with waltzes and polkas.

“Anything they want to hear that keeps people in spirit.”

Karr has played at the seniors’ dinner for a few years and says it’s always nice to perform, especially as he is a senior now. He says the dinner is a highlight of the year for many as there aren’t a lot of locations in Whitehorse for seniors to gather.

“It’s Yukon’s big event,” he says, especially for Copper Ridge Place and Macaulay Lodge residents who have bus transportation to and from the dinner.

“It’s great coming together with seniors,” says Whitehorse Lions Club member Lloyd Ryder, who stands at the front with his wife, Marny. Ryder has been a volunteer organizer for the event since its beginning in 1974.

“It reassures me that the youth of today aren’t all that they’re criticized for,” Marny says.

And how does this year’s event compare to past?

“Just listen to it,” says Lloyd, beaming. The room is buzzing with chatter, laughter and smiles so wide you’d think Christmas had come early.

“Of course the grads are the highlight,” says Shirley Keobke, “But we enjoy meeting with old friends and just being here.”

Keobke sits with her husband, Bucky, at a table near the front of the hall. The couple were announced as Mr. and Mrs. Yukon 2008 last January. Bucky says they know many of the parents and have known some of the grads since they were young.

“You just can’t beat roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy,” he says.

Shortly after 6 p.m., Karr, Lloyd Ryder, Elks Lodge representative Bill Ford and Whitehorse Lions Club President Carl Ledieu take the stage.

“Can you hear me out there?” shouts Karr to an enthusiastic roar of approval. “Is everybody happy? Is everybody hungry?”

A minute after all heads in the room lower for grace, platter and dish tops are lifted by the students to display roast beef, mashed potatoes, turnips, carrots, peas, coleslaw and gravy – all the laboured fruits of an abundance of benevolent community volunteers, now ready to be presented to the awaiting seniors’ plates.

Says Ryder from stage, “And now it’s time to eat; hang onto your seats!”

Trays of hot, steaming roast beef, carrots, mashed potatoes, turnips, peas and gravy await the 300 seniors gathered for the annual dinner.