teaching / writing

What is the point of prom?

We just had ours this past Friday and I love seeing my students all dressed up in their finery, but I often think…what is the point of prom?

Movies and American society lead one to believe that prom is a pivotal part of the high school experience. Things happen on prom night; both good and bad. Going to prom is a rite of passage. So on and so forth.

We have little reasons to dress up these days. Unless one is often invited to galas, balls, and premieres, a fancy dress or tux is unnecessary. (This almost makes me want to go off on a rant about bridesmaid dresses and how nearly every bride I’ve ‘attended’ said something about how I could wear the dress again…do I look like the person who has a lifestyle of fancy events to attend?) Formal dining, dancing, appearance is not the norm for most of us, so the opportunity to go through those types of experiences can be fun and informative.

But the dancing isn’t formal. I’ve never seen how the dinners go for my students, so perhaps they are learning etiquette there. And after all the pomp and ceremony, the moment the students can leave…they do.

So what is the point? After having to decorate and build so the venue looks festive, there’s a lot of ‘you look so pretty/nice’ and some dancing (of the more contemporary style), it’s over. There’s clean up and throwing away of cardboard, wrapping up faerie lights, and taking home flowers because they might be trashed.

My own proms were fine. I had on a pretty dress, ate a nice meal, danced a little (our dance floor was tiny at the country club prom was hosted at), and was home early because I wasn’t much of a night owl at age 17/18. Nothing earth-shattering happened. Nothing life-changing, or ‘shaping to make me who I am now’ happened.

Is it an outdated tradition? Quite a few of my students have already done formal things (cotillion, etc.) so the need for that experience isn’t as necessary. The ones who seem most invested are the parents. Not even the students seem all that excited even though the night is FOR them. Most don’t enjoy the planning or setting up of prom and would leave early from it if allowed. The prom-posal stress (on either side of the equation) is ridiculous (there will eventually be a rant about that, I promise you). Never mind that the dresses made for teen girls are 90% horribly inappropriate. It’s a lot of money, time, effort, stress, for a few hours of formality that the students don’t seem to really embrace.

So, truly, what is the point of prom?

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