Every springtime, high school seniors across the country think about graduation and the long standing tradition known as the senior prom. This time honored senior tradition began as a way for seniors to celebrate the end of their high school experience.
In every high school where there is a senior prom, there are usually many customs and traditions attached to the prom experience.
Some high school seniors celebrate a theme and hold the unique dinner dance on campus. Parents transform the gym and/or cafeteria into an elegant dining hall.
In recent times, this once time honored celebrations for graduating seniors has become a venue for overindulgence and recklessness. Many parents, by their silence, have sanctioned this kind of troubling behavior that, at times, borders on being lethal.
The prom was created to celebrate the end of one's high school career. It started out as a wholesome dinner dance for seniors, where seniors dressed up and had one last official party together. It was intended to be an evening of remembrance and friendship. It was never intended to be an extravaganza grounded in extreme excess.
Unfortunately, because the prom experience in a growing number of high schools has raised concern, more and more high schools are electing to eliminate the prom from the senior class's end of the year celebrations. Some high schools are replacing it with a more controlled social experience, limited to only the seniors who are graduating.
Most parents and school administrators would concede that the prom event has gotten out of control. They would concur that entirely too much money is being spent foolishly on one evening of celebration. A growing number of parents would concede that the social behavior of an increasing number of prom participants has gotten out of control. The reckless drinking and drug use has become epidemic at this event.
However, in fairness, the majority of senior prom goers just want to have fun and create positive memories to hold onto. They are not reckless or out of control. Thus, to cancel the senior prom seems a little extreme, especially if those who are abusive and out of control are a very small percentage of the senior class.
One could make a case that the school administrators who cancelled the prom are copping out and taking the easy way out. Sometimes it's easier to hide behind sophisticated rhetoric and the overstated issues of liability, then to be proactive and work to create opportunities that are more in sync with the school's mission statement and values system.
In other parts of the country, that is exactly what school administrators have done. They have reclaimed the prom and redefined its' parameters. They have called for greater accountability on the part of prom participants and their parents.
Part of the accountability has been to increase clarity around non-compliance. School administrators have been very clear that any violation on prom night would be addressed, no matter what the violation is or who is in violation.
Over the years, many senior proms, which were once celebrated on campus, have moved off campus into very extravagant catering venues. This once very simple dinner dance has evolved into a sophisticated evening that is becoming more expensive than a wedding.
The cost for this one night of memories has become ridiculous. The prom tickets have become so expensive. The costs of tuxedo rentals, prom dresses, flowers, limos, pre-prom party, post prom party, pictures and all the after prom activities have become outrageous. What was once a very cost effective evening out is now costing thousands of dollars.
One upstate high school decided to bring the prom back to their high school campus. The parents decided to give the prom to their seniors, similar to what Port Jefferson High School does for its' seniors.
The high school gymnasium is transformed into an elegant dining room. Each year a theme is selected and the room is decorated accordingly. Parents of seniors and other members of the community contribute their time and talent for this project.
The prom is held the first weekend of May every year. Students know that alcohol and drug use of any kind is explicitly prohibited before and after the prom. All limos and cars bringing guests are searched. Once students arrive on campus, they cannot leave until the formal prom has ended.
After the formal prom has ended, the students are urged to change into casual clothing. The smaller gym in the high school is set up with competitive games. Some classrooms are available for hanging out, listening to music and playing board games. Around 3:00am, breakfast is served in the cafeteria and a car raffle is drawn. The winner must be present to win.
At the beginning of senior year, seniors are gathered together to talk about the end of the year, their senior social activities and their prom. During this meeting, the seniors are clearly informed about the parameters of their prom. Their principal is very clear about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable social behavior on that evening.
The senior class advisor explains the purpose of the prom. He or she talks about the consequences of noncompliance, especially around drugs and alcohol and the lost weekend concept.
The advisor is pretty adamant that renting condos or hotel rooms for the prom weekend is totally unacceptable. If a student is found to be in noncompliance because of drugs or alcohol or has been found to have participated in prom weekend activities that are reckless and out of control, he or she may be denied the opportunity to walk with his or her class at graduation. In this particular school district, the Board of Education unanimously voted to support that kind of sanction for senior noncompliance.
One's diploma would not be denied, but participation in commencement would be. This consequence would be applied to the president of the senior class as well as the fringe seniors. Parents would not be able to bully their way out of this consequence. In places where this strategy is used, it is most effective because no one is above the law.
The challenge of prom season is not to cancel it because we fear student recklessness and noncompliance, but rather to work cooperatively to make the prom experience a wonderful memory. To that end, school, seniors and parents must work together and support each other.
Parents must support their local high school and its' efforts to keep our seniors safe. Pre-prom parties must not depart from being safe and wholesome environments. Parents should not condone post prom activities that are unsupervised. Over the last year, we have seen what poor supervision, out of control behavior and reckless decision making have done. We do not want to lose seniors on prom night.
The prom is an opportunity for seniors to really celebrate their four years of high school together and create memories that they can carry with them forever. It should not become a blur or a lost weekend.
As a community, we should work together to support our local high school seniors as they prepare for their prom weekend. We should not enable them, by our silence, to make poor choices that could potentially be lethal.