With the Spring season beckoning upon the horizon, it brings not only increasing warmth (hopefully!), sunshine (fingers crossed!), an abundance of blooming flowers (highly anticipated) and throughout much of the U.S., Prom season! Perhaps the memories conjured by mentioning prom are pleasant, neutral, or an affair to forget, though with that being said, where I hail from, prom is not only considered a pivotal high school event, but also a community event, involving/summoning an array of residents, if they so choose. The local school district where I reside within, Pennsbury, is highly-regarded as the “best prom in America”, which would honestly be a challenge to debate given the media uproar and coverage it summons each year.
Arrivals at the Pennsbury Prom span well-beyond the scope of traditional limos, vehicles or “party buses.” For Pennsbury students, prom preparations and the actual Prom event often involve hours of effort and preparations, ensuring the event transpires without a hitch. One-by-one, students arrive in unique, outlandish vehicles such as fire trucks, fancy cars, and even homemade parade floats. The high school gym is decorated so impressively that open walk-throughs are held the day of, so that other members of the community can check it out. Media coverage of the prom is often expansive, with local news stations staked out, hoping to capture the exhilarating arrivals and now with the expansion of social media, arrivals and the prom event are bound to be “live-streamed” on one medium or another. Once inside, students are often treated to performances from famous entertainers such as Ryan Cabrera, Questlove, and John Mayer. Given it’s uniqueness and rising popularity, back in 2004, senior Sports Illustrated writer, Michael Bamberger even wrote a book (Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School) about it!
Having one’s prom be made into this big of a spectacle may seem fun, but it also can place a vast amount of pressure on teens who feel that they need to live up to the hype or go beyond what has ever been done before. Planning for prom night can be stressful enough without having to worry about when you should start designing your “arrival float.”
Reflecting back on both my junior and senior proms, personally, I did not attend either. Having attended a rival high school to Pennsbury (I grew up in a town about 20 minutes away), my reasons for choosing to not attend prom were not completely centered around how I was going to arrive, or actual prom preparation, per se, though the pressures of how I would look and plan for the evening definitely contributed to my decisions. Now, there are plenty of ways to make planning the night easier, from booking rides to renting suits online. Back then, many of the preparations often felt too overwhelming. Coupled with issues with friendships and health issues sidelining me for much of my senior year, I opted out of each prom.
Like many high school teens, at the time, I was often consumed by what others thought of me and placed significant undue pressures upon myself as far as appearance, academics and personal friendships/relationships. This lead to feelings of inadequacy in comparison to others who, on the surface, appeared to be gliding through life unphased by any and all hardships or at least, could handle and channel them better than I could. Of course, now as an adult, I realize that everyone faces their own struggles and that these people may have been dealing with theirs in different ways. Though for me, and perhaps others can relate to as well, when you’re in high school, it’s often hard to see things through any other lens.
If asked if I regret my decisions for choosing to not attend prom, I’d say in some ways I do, though I try my best to not have regrets about it. Back then, I felt it was the appropriate choice for me and I made the choice for a reason. Rather than look back and judge myself, I try to be kind to my high-school self and recognize it was my right to act upon what I felt would work best for me. There is no sense in berating myself for the choices I make, but rather I can offer my experiences to others and acknowledge how to perceive our situations differently.
With that being said, sometimes I feel that attending prom, my junior prom in particular, could have been a pivotal point for me; giving me the chance to stand my ground, own my individuality, and embrace what makes me uniquely me. At the same time, having skipped each prom, I respect I made the choice I felt was best appropriate for me at that time given the circumstances and can only move forward from here and offer my perspective to others.
So to anyone out there who is prepping for prom season, take a breath, think about what you want, emphasize what is most important when it comes to prom; having fun; being who you are, feeling comfortable inside and out, not wearing something because it is popular or expected, not arriving in a form of transportation because it “looks good.” Rather, do what feels right for you, not anybody else. This is your time, your event, your moment – you’ve earned it. No need to worry if your “prom-posal” didn’t go viral; you are worth more than the price of a fancy dress or tuxedo. Have fun, be safe, and know that there are better things to come.