Reclaiming the Senior Prom

High school seniors across the county should take pause and think about the longstanding tradition in most high schools known as the Senior Prom. This time honored senior celebration began as a means to celebrate ...

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High school seniors across the county should take pause and think about the longstanding tradition in most high schools known as the Senior Prom. This time honored senior celebration began as a means to celebrate the senior class.

In every high school where there is a senior prom, there are also many customs and traditions attached to the prom.

Some high school seniors celebrate a theme and hold their unique dinner dance on campus. Parents transform the gym and/or cafeteria into an elegant dining hall.

In recent times, this once time honored celebration for graduating seniors has become a venue for overindulgence and recklessness. Many parents, by their silence, have sanctioned this kind of troubling behavior.

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 never intended to be an extravaganza grounded in such excess.

Recently, two Catholic high schools in Nassau County, Chaminade and Kellenburg, which are run by Marionist Brothers and Priests, announced their decision to cancel the senior prom. Their administrators said this was done due to how this event had turned into an exercise of excess and recklessness.

Last spring, forty-six seniors from Kellenburg pooled ten thousand dollars to rent a post prom party house in the Hamptons. If the truth be told, many affluent high schools from the bi-county community have been doing the same thing.

This prom venue was becoming so out of control that it prompted Southampton Town to write letters to school districts begging them to discourage these post prom rentals.

The Town became concerned because they draw crowds of underage drinkers. Adult supervision is slim to none. For many who participate, it has become a lost weekend. It begins with the prom and does not stop until Monday morning. The rules are simple: anything goes. Money flows like water, as does alcohol.

Since Kellenburg and Chaminade have taken a formal stand against the prom, much has been said and written about this issue. Many supporters are urging public and private schools alike to follow their example.

It is admirable that two schools have formally raised their concern about prom excess and the growing wild behavior associated with the prom.

Many parents and school administrators would concede that the prom event has gotten out of control. They would concur that entirely too much money is spent on this one night event.

A growing number of parents would concede that the social behavior of a growing number of senior prom participants has gotten out of control.

However, in fairness, the majority of senior prom goers just want to have fun and create positive memories to hold on to. 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 administrators who cancelled the prom were copping out and taking the easy way out.

Sometimes it is easier to hide behind rhetoric and the overstated issues of liability, then to be proactive and work to create opportunities that are more in sync with a school's mission statement and value system.

In other parts of the state, 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 the participants and their parents.

Part of the accountability has been to increase clarity around non-compliance. The school administrators have been very clear that any violation would be addressed, no matter who is in violation.

One upstate high school decided to bring the prom back to the 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 gym is transformed into an elegant dining room. Each year a theme is selected and the room is decorated accordingly.

The prom is held the first weekend of May every year. Students know that alcohol and drug use of any kind is explicitly prohibited. All limos and cars bringing guests are searched. Once students enter the gym, they cannot leave until the formal prom has ended.

After the formal prom has ended, the students are urged to change. The smaller gym is set up with competitive games. Some classrooms are available for hanging out and listening to music.

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, senior social activities and the prom. During this meeting, seniors are clearly informed about the parameters of their prom.

The senior class advisor explains the purpose of the prom. He or she talks about the consequences of non-compliance, especially around drugs and alcohol and the lost weekend concept.

The advisor is pretty adamant that renting condos or hotel rooms for prom weekend is totally unacceptable.

If a student is found in non-compliance because of drugs and alcohol, or are 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.

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 the places where this strategy is used, it is most effective because no one is above the law. Maybe the Catholic high schools that cancelled the prom should consider this strategy instead of punishing all seniors for the reckless behavior of a few.