Prom Promises Nostalgia, Nerves, and Lasting Memories
High school’s biggest night sends juniors into a frenzy and parents into a sentimental haze
By Jessica Zischke and Gerry Vazquez, Managing Editor and Arts Editor
It could be seen as a night to remember, a night to be avoided, or a night simply to be forgotten. Regardless of the perspective, prom is a critical process in a teen’s life, with a plot line involving the build up, the complications, the confusion, the letdowns, and the reflection.
Prom represents a rite of passage for many students, as it is among the first lifelong events that instill a sense of courage and tradition in asking someone to an occasion infused with romance and drama. It is surrounded by a haze of tradition and glamour that has somehow managed to withstand the test of time and changing social structure. While the butterflies in the stomach span generations, the roles of who asks first and how one does the asking are constantly in flux. Still, prom manages to hold its key transcendence.
“Prom is a time for the class to be together. It’s time for your class to bond and have this fun shared experience, and to enjoy each other’s company in your youth,” said English teacher Natalie Moore.
This is one event that students only have one chance to attend, and not going is either not an option or is a seriously regretted mistake.
“It never crossed my mind not to attend because I always thought of Junior Prom as a unique opportunity in life,” said Jodie Ford, recent Acalanes graduate of the Class of 2007. “There are only four years of your life where you will be able to attend, so why not take advantage and enjoy the occasion?
It’s the one night that will remain a memory for all attendees, no matter how fantastic or terrible it was.
“It was one of those memorable moments I [will forever remember],” said science teacher Tom McNamara.
This year’s Junior Prom took place on the evening of March 24, giving another group of students the chance to experience this quintessential night in one’s high school experience.
“Will you go to prom with me?” It’s a simple question, really, and yet so much depends on it. Think about it: the question, the dress, the tux, the make-up, the hair, the boutonniere, the corsage, the dream of a fairytale-esque night. And, of course, there are the suspicions of who will ask who, worries if that person has already been asked, and the fear of flat-out rejection.
First of all, there’s the process of asking someone, quite the feat in itself. Nowadays, students are forced into the deepest depths of their imaginations to find something completely original and personalized to ask that special someone, or even just a friend. In some cases, it’s easy to ask a boyfriend or girlfriend of however many months or a good friend, but many times people don’t choose the easy way out, or simply don’t have that option. Then comes the never-ending brainstorming to find the perfect way to ask, and finally, working up the courage to put the plan into action.
“I love this song ‘Jumper’ by Third Eye Blind, so I entered the room playing it on the guitar,” said junior Jake Hirsch. “I altered the lyrics so that instead of, ‘I wish you would step back from that ledge my friend,’ it was, ‘I wish you would go to prom with me Jess Kallen.’ She said yes. I was expecting butterflies, but instead I was just kind of excited, seeing that surprised look on her face was priceless.”
Many other students have had similar success in conjuring creative juices for this memorable occasion.
“My boyfriend, Ben Croze, left a vase full of little bottles and sand on my porch. Inside the little bottles were origami cranes that he’d made, which is kind of a thing for us because I used to make him origami flowers and the way he asked me out incorporated origami,” said junior Carolyn Cole. “Inside the first crane was the key for a puzzle that was a bunch of blank spaces with numbers one through thirteen. When I opened the other bottles, each crane had a number on it, and written on each was a quote. That was especially sweet because I collect quotes as a kind of hobby. He underlined letters in the quotes which corresponded to the key and I filled it out and it spelled, ‘Will you go to prom with me?’ It was just really sweet and creative and it reminded me why I like him so much.”
As more years pass, it becomes increasingly common for girls to do the asking as well as guys. The most popular form of asking a guy is, of course, through food. After all, as the saying goes, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
“I made some cupcakes that spelled out ‘PROM?’ and put them on his door step,” said Natalie Chan, recent Acalanes graduate of the Class of 2011. “I was so nervous. My best friends drove me to his house and I ran to his doorstep, rang the doorbell, set down the plate of cupcakes, and ran. My friends and I drove off and parked somewhere where we couldn’t be seen.”
The asking process is not always easy, however. One’s fear of rejection can reach unbearable levels, and he or she can begin to wonder if he or she was rejected because the other “just wants to go with friends” or if you simply asked the wrong way.
“One of my friends asked a girl he really liked out to prom my junior year,” said Ali Karsant, recent Acalanes graduate of the Class of 2007. “He had been really nervous in the days leading up, but he didn’t expect to be rejected as quickly. She just said no, and I could tell that he was crushed.”
Asking can also prove to be one of the most confusing aspects of prom. Many of those waiting to be asked have an idea of who they would like to go with and count down the days that pass without being asked. There’s always the dreaded situation that the person who asks you isn’t who you’ve been hoping would, and then figuring out how to deal with this situation best. All of these make up what’s been dubbed “proma” by some, short for prom drama.
“I had a student who got a flower every period and saw the guy after [my class] and said no,” said Choral Director Bruce Lengacher. “[It was one of those situations where] people think that somebody else was going to ask them who they wanted to ask them, and then somebody else did, and they said no, and then the other person doesn’t ask.”
Although asking can bring up some negative emotions, it remains one of the most talked about occurrences throughout the prom process. With the added creativity of today, those asked will be sure to fondly remember this part of the experience through the years.
The Ups and Downs
Prom is often looked upon as “that one magical night” in high school. Girls are transported back to childhood and the longing to finally fulfill their princess wishes. Every aspect of prom, from the perfect dress to the white knight, evokes feelings of a ball straight out of a fairy tale.
“Honestly, I’ve been looking forward to prom since freshman year. It’s in Disney movies, and it’s every girl’s dream to get asked to prom,” said junior Sophie Takashima.
However, for many these dreams are ruined long before the actual event. Post-prom juniors continue to buzz for a few days about how prom went, often complaining about almost every aspect of the event itself. Sophomores and freshman sometimes hear these unimpressed comments, and although most attend prom anyways, a few are convinced that the prom really isn’t as big a deal as it’s made out to be.
“I knew in the beginning of the year that I wasn’t going to go,” said senior Bayanne Alrawi, who had a choral conflict the weekend of her prom. “A lot of people said it was really awkward and that they didn’t have fun, so I feel like I didn’t miss out on a lot.”
Prom has become notorious for being an uneventful disappointment, often leaving students questioning why they even attended.
“I wouldn’t relive prom just because I guess my expectations were too high and I felt disappointed when it wasn’t as glamorous as most people portray it to be, whether through media or just the overall hype towards this event,” said senior Hsin-Hung Lin.
Often, the pre- and post-prom events are highlighted more than the event itself. These memories prove much more lasting, while recollections of prom can fade away rather quickly.
“Everybody always has fun getting ready, but the actual prom part isn’t that great,” said Katie Records, recent Acalanes graduate of the Class of 2011.
Although the expectations and letdowns of prom will most likely continue with the coming years, these shouldn’t be what governs the overall experience. Students should still be able to have a fantastic time at prom, and not let these feelings inhibit their remembrance of the night.
“There’s a lot of build up in movies and on TV and such, so everybody has these really high expectations,” said Jamie Whelehan, Acalanes parent of sophomore Caroline Whelehan. “Then they spend the night trying to meet the expectations instead of just going with the flow and having a good time.”
The Hindsight of Prom
For many seniors, prom dates are one-night flings. Many even go as “just friends” for fear of going alone and not wanting to spur a romantic relationship.
High school prom dates have the potential to become closer friends. In some cases, mere acquaintances can become a little closer than originally conceived, and in the case of one Blueprint sports editor, an initial friendship turned into a promising relationship.
“He was in my AP U.S. History class and I didn’t know him at all,” said senior Niki Peterson. “He asked me one day after class and I said, ‘sure.’ It was really random and I’m still not sure why he did it, but it turned out well in the end. We started talking and at prom, we had a really great time. It’s funny because we had barely ever talked to each other before he asked me to prom and prom was the first time we ever hung out, yet less than a month after prom, we started dating. Now, after ten months, we are still together. We just got really lucky.”
Furthermore, the romantic sentimentality of prom has the tendency of creating passionate, long-lasting relationships that can, at times, transcend beyond high school itself.
“I went with Kenny Robinson, who I ended up marrying seven years later,” said English teacher Liz Pagano. “It was one of our first dates. He was a great date, and so we continued to see each other. We got married seven years later so there were a lot of ups and downs between there. It wasn’t like we were together forever from that very moment, but we worked it out. We did a lot of growing up and we ended up getting married.”
For some, decisions made during high school regarding prom can have ramifications that linger for decades.
“I met a girl in high school who I later married,” said outside advisor to Blueprint Marshall Grodin. “When I was a junior, and she was a sophomore at another school, I didn’t ask her to the junior prom. I had come to find out that she was counting on this and had gone out and bought a dress in anticipation. She was mildly upset when I didn’t ask her, and in fact, I asked another girl from another school.”
However, under some miraculous circumstances, previous wrongs can be righted.
“What I’ve found, since we’re now married 43 years, is that those things are never quite forgotten or forgiven until you make them right,” said Grodin. “I had a little chance at redemption a few years back. I was a teacher and a dean at Bentley School, and the junior prom was coming around, and I hoped I could make things right, so I invited my wife to the Bentley junior prom. I was going to be going as a chaperone, so I bought her flowers, she got a new dress, and we went to the prom sort of as an elderly prom couple. We danced, and she forgave me.”
Many faculty members recall class traditions associated with prom most fondly.
“The next day, [my date] picked me up and we went down the shore [in New Jersey] for the day,” said librarian Karen Findlay. “That was really fun too. I really enjoyed that. It made it so prom wasn’t just one night, it was [a weekend thing], and that was really cool.”
Prom As a Barometer of Time
Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of prom is the gender roles associated with it. It’s expected for the guy to ask a girl, for the guy to pay for pre-prom dinner, and purchase the corsage for the girl. Meanwhile, the girl simply has to say yes and then be sure she looks pretty that night. However, part of the charming appeal of prom is hidden in these age-old traditions, despite how old-fashioned they may seem.
“I guess [gender roles] are still relevant because prom is something that taps into all of those old fifties proper ideals like the whole nuclear family thing,” said Adam Fixler, Acalanes graduate of the Class of 2010. “A guy asks a girl out and then they go out on a date, then they go to prom and then get married and have babies and live happily ever after. Prom is something that kind of taps into that mentality.”
However, many people choose to break the mold of these gender roles, a trend that had started some a generation or two back, but hasn’t gained a lot of power until more recently.
“In my own experience, I asked a guy to go [to prom],” said Principal Aida Glimme. “There’s a lot of pressure to go ask, and there’s a lot of pressure sitting there and waiting to be asked. I think prom these days are great because you don’t have to go with a date.”
For some past prom-goers, gender roles were viewed as a strict social code that simply was not broken. Some of these pressures have continued to present day, but overall have been lifted to fit the modern day social setting.
“In the past, mainly, if you didn’t have a date, you really didn’t go, which is really upsetting because that’s really one of your most memorable times from high school,” said Glimme. “I think it’s great that those lines have been erased, so if you want to go and you don’t want to sit there and wait, you go and ask somebody.”
Many people believe that these traditional roles still have a long way to go until they are fully relevant for the 21st century.
“Traditional gender roles are unfair to women. Lots of girls these days feel pressured to not ask out a guy they like and instead wait for him to make the first move or else she will be labeled as too headstrong or weird,” said Lin. “These roles make it seem like girls are weaker than boys in terms of taking initiative. That’s the wrong mindset for people to have.”
Many girls have taken it upon themselves to do the asking and break these traditional notions. Often, people expect that only the most confident girls can ask a guy to prom. However, nerves can always get in the way, but for those who have gone through this, the extra energy from these feelings is enough payoff for asking.
“Boys shouldn’t get all the fun of getting to ask someone to prom,” said Chan. “I had a lot of fun asking [my date]; it was such an adrenaline rush.”
People acknowledge the troubles with these ideals; yet also take note of the fact that because they have been engrained in human nature for so long, it will be no quick feat to fight gender roles out of this century.
“I know that many people feel strongly that these traditions are contributing to the imbalance of power between men and women, and I think there’s some truth to that,” said Karsant. “I am not opposed to seeing these traditions fade away. However, I don’t think it will be easy.”
Another aspect of these roles is the presence of same-sex couples who attend prom together. Some faculty members take notice that this is now seen as a normal occurrence, rather than something that draws attention as it would’ve in the past.
“I think it’s a lot more accepting now than it used to be,” said Lengacher. “I know that there are a lot of same-sex couples who go, and I believe that’s a good thing.”
One of the starkest differences that has only grown in the past decade or so is how the asking process has changed.
“There were no big asking extravaganzas, but then again it wasn’t popular then,” said Moore. “I mean, that just wasn’t something that you did.”
Many other faculty members agree with this statement, but some prove to have a harsher view regarding this transformation.
“We didn’t make such a big deal about it the asking,” said Pagano. “[Guys feel pressure to] make a big spectacle. It’s now an expectation that girls have, and it just seems so contrived to me.”
The extravagance of prom can also be measured through the amount of money spent for this one special night. Despite the fact that the costs only pay off for a few hours, students have no reservations regarding the expenses in order to make the night as perfect as can be.
“I spent about $250 on a dress, probably $40 on hair, $30 for make-up, and $130 for two tickets,” said Chan, for a total of $450.
Other students argue that the high price ticket for prom isn’t necessarily worth it as the experience doesn’t live up to expectations.
“Spending that much money, like $400, is just too much,” said senior Kevin Zhang. “Sometimes it’s just not worth it.”
Many of those who look back on prom don’t feel a huge pang in the wallet, and maintain the opinion that no matter the costs, this magical night is always worth it.
“There was a tux to rent, that was about $20, the was $10, along with dinner and the ticket it probably totaled $50,” said Grodin. “Even though I had a horrible time, it was worth it. I wouldn’t have missed it.”
Although there are many negatives associated with prom, it is overall a rite of passage that would simply be a mistake to pass up. It’s one of the only events for the entire class to be together and have their own night as a group.
“Between graduation coming up, college, or the next step around the corner and being surrounded by the people you love and have grown up with, prom is just a spectacular way to celebrate,” said Ford.
There is no denying that the prom process has gotten a little out of hand in recent years, however, it remains a timeless American tradition that no one should pass up.
“I think that it’s a rite of passage, but we’ve just made too much of it. If students want to have ownership of their experience, then they should plan it, and decorate for it, and raise money for it. That’s what made it meaningful to me, is that I had ownership of it, and it was mine,” said Moore. “As far as all the money that’s spent, this is not a wedding, you know? But it’s an important rite of passage, and if you want to go you should totally go and have fun and be safe.”