How AHS students and staff work to turn prom dreams into reality

Divya Prakash


   Glimmering in their finery and weathering torrential rain, 610 students attended American High School’s prom on May 18 at the Scottish Rite Center in Oakland. The event was by most accounts a tremendous success, both organized and attended by individuals aware of— and ready to take on— this most serious responsibility of having fun.

    Between the prom subgenre of teen movies, and the increasingly common phenomenon of “adult proms” for those who want to relive the night, prom as a rite of passage seems to be lodged irretrievably into the American consciousness. Indeed, expectation seems to be the most salient feature of the night and the weeks leading up to it: that we should look beautiful, that we should have a partner or group to share the night with, and that we should have fun.

    Rucha Joshi is one senior who definitely experienced this prick of expectation. She stated, “The movies, which I believe are a little stereotypical, show the quintessential prom experience. I see them and think they’re so cliched… but also that it would be so cool to have that same experience.”

    Part of this ideal, Joshi describes, was the idea of a “promposal”: the often elaborate, always nerve-wracking process of asking someone to prom. Shanna Miwa Sakata (12) decided this year to initiate a simple promposal of her own.

    “I didn’t really want to make a big deal of it. I just asked him if he would like to go to prom and gave him a rose. I figured it would be the best time to ask, if I would ever be so forward,” she stated.

    Motivated mostly by the idea of “shooting her shot,” Sakata reported that she did not feel pressured to have a date to prom. Not everyone felt the same way, however. David Cao (12), said, “The first thing people ask you is, ‘Who are you going with?’ Especially if you’re alone. There seems to be an expectation that you go at least with a group [if not a date].”

    Joshi was frank that she longed to receive a promposal, “[regardless of whether] it was from a really good friend, or someone I was interested in. It seemed like part of that ideal prom experience.” But these high hopes, to her, were less of a burden than a sparkling possibility, as she still vowed to have the “best time possible” with or without a date and make this an unforgettable evening with her friends.

    Joshi’s resolution was not unique among prom participants. Fueled by these technicolor dreams of what prom should look and feel like, nearly every participant I spoke to reported having taken various measures to live up to their own – and often other people’s – expectations for the night. In my own social circle, it was not uncommon for people to spend a few hundred dollars between the ticket, hair and nails, a dress or suit, transportation, and a corsage.

    “There’s this fantasy that prom is going to be the biggest night of your life. People arrive in limos, spend a lot of money on clothes. [American’s] is a typical prom,” stated Mr. Howard, who chaperoned the dance.

    The prom experience is, of course, different for chaperones and administrators than it is for student attendees. The adults supervising prom also take responsibility, albeit of a different kind, for maintaining the fun and safety of the event. Mr. Reibenschuh, who was present at prom, reported, “Well, we always want to have a building that’s secure, and control over who comes in and out so people can’t leave without permission. We have teachers on the elevators, security guarding all the doors, and chaperones on the third floor was well.”

    Security is just one of the many responsibilities that prom organizers must take on. Most attendees are not aware of how much planning goes into pulling off an event of this scale. The event coordinator for the AHS prom, called SF Proms, works with the Prom Commissioners to work out logistics as broad as parking and transportation and as specific as “tablecloth covers,” Disha Kurane (12), Prom Commissioner, reported. “And lighting. I don’t think most people realize all the small details we have to think about.”

    ASB too must contend with people’s sky-high expectations for the night. “Our school has really liked going to nice places in San Francisco or Oakland. It has become really, really competitive to try and get venues in the Bay Area [as we are] competing with other schools’ proms, and weddings,” stated Mr. Fulton. “Usually we have to book a year ahead. I think we had this location, the Scottish Rite, booked last January.”

    People’s lack of awareness about the realities of prom planning means expectations can climb too high. Mr. Fulton continued, “Last year [people were complaining] about prom being in between AP weeks, but that’s not in our control [since we book so far in advance]. Prime dates are not always available.”

    Many people also took issue with the ticket price, which was higher than it had been in previous years. “I could afford a ticket, but I thought it was way too much. I know a lot of my friends felt the same way,” said one senior.

    But Mr. Fulton reports, “We charge a little underneath the actual cost per person for the first week…it’s only the actual cost per person by the end of the three weeks. Part of the cost is the venue, the DJ, the security, decorations, photo booths…This year, a big part of that cost is the full sit-down buffet dinner.”

    But for those for whom cost was prohibitive, Mr. Fulton states, fee payment plans were an option. This was one of several ways that prom this year made efforts to be inclusive to all. One survey respondent stated that they felt especially included since “I was fasting [for Ramadan] so [organizers] set food aside for me.”

    Others appreciated that American departs from the tradition of naming a Prom King and Queen, stating that it makes the event more inclusive. Joshi stated, “I’m really glad AHS doesn’t have that tradition. It creates a hierarchy and a lot of pressure to be popular.”

    As is the case with any undertaking that people care deeply about, prom was both widely praised and roundly criticised. A survey revealed that attendees took umbrage with aspects as diverse as the rain, the food, the music, the strobe lighting and the very idea of prom itself. (“Hated it. Just horrible,” one survey response reads.) But those who enjoyed prom raved about the very same location, food, music, and company that others maligned. (“Prom was an incredible night and I will treasure it for my whole life!” another response exclaims.) Dealing with such high expectations and so many vividly imagined fantasies of what prom should be like, every individual responsible for coordinating prom must accept that there can never be a perfect event, and it is impossible to please everyone.

   Besides, American’s prom environment already reflects a level of good fortune that is far from universal. “I didn’t attend my own high school prom,” contrasted Mr. Howard. “Since I went to a poor high school with a lot of gang violence.”

    So for all of us reminiscing over prom or planning for future years, it might serve us well to adopt reasonable expectations and a sense of gratitude for this rare opportunity to enjoy the splendor of fine clothes and a gorgeous location. As senior prom commissioner Justine Lee stated, “It’s one night where you really shouldn’t have to stress about tests or homework but just enjoy yourself and your friends’ company.”

    Indeed, as we grow older, the responsibilities upon us will be much greater than simply having a good time. So if you do choose to attend prom, relieve yourself of the burden of expectation, forget the fantasies, and simply let yourself be taken into the magic that is reality.

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