Did you go to your prom? You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that I did not. In fact, my small circle of friends in high school almost made a pact that none of us would degrade ourselves by wallowing in such a shallow, melancholy, and pretentious spectacle.
As if all of the sentimentality drenching prom night wasn’t bad enough, there was the incredible expense of wearing uncomfortable clothes to eat hotel food and sweat while jiggling to loud music. Besides, we all knew that most of our classmates considered prom as simply the first course in a night of alcohol-fueled sexual debauchery.
Was our assessment of high school prom night simply a stilted interpretation of negative stereotypes, or was it pretty accurate? If you went to your prom, and you attended a typical suburban high school, you have to admit that even if we were exceptionally cynical, we pretty much were correct, weren’t we? Maybe you didn’t drink, smoke, and have sex on your prom night, but you knew you were in the minority, didn’t you?
The year before I graduated, the son of a prominent local businessman trashed the Holiday Inn across the freeway from our high school’s prom hotel, Dallas’ glitzy Anatole. From what I heard, even some students who didn’t join in the fracas at Holiday Inn got plenty sick from contraband alcohol smuggled into the Anatole’s rarefied hallways and salons. Rumor had it that in response, the Holiday Inn forbid any access to our high school’s graduating classes for years, and our prominent businessman ended up paying for remodeling at least one room.
Ahh, good times, right?
To its credit, I didn’t hear of any similar stupidity taking place at my senior class’ prom, which the Anatole (with either a weak memory or weakness for business) also hosted. Who knows - maybe our proms were mild in comparison to others they've held? At least for my class' festivities, I recall hearing that faculty, parents, and other chaperones practically smothered revelers with supervision. Which I'm sure all of my classmates in attendance deeply appreciated.
Of course, having fun doesn’t have to be a crime, and different people have different ideas of what fun looks like. But the fact that prom nights at my high school don’t contrast with many proms across the country is not a point of pride. And the fact that many parents either react with apathy, a smirk and a wink, or outright complicity by providing the booze and condoms only compounds the problem.
And what is the problem? That our society actually endorses the notion that the best way to celebrate a milestone such as completing one’s childhood education is with sex and alcohol. By kids who are still minors.
Over the years, some people thought the stretch limousines and designer ball gowns were signs prom night had breached the boundary between recognizing achievement and silly excess. Why some parents now don’t think reserving blocks of hotel rooms for their teenagers isn’t a de-facto endorsement of wild behavior eludes me.
Even less responsible are the family lifestyles that apparently indoctrinate children with morally permissive attitudes as they’re growing up. After all, most kids don’t just suddenly turn into sex-crazed drunken hooligans on prom night, do they? Rather, they’ve been primed and coached since birth by their parents’ personal behavior and failure to frame cultural pressures and immoral temptations in terms of consequences, rewards, propriety, and dignity.
Raising the Bar (not the one in the lobby)
So, is it really about the kids, or… about what their parents have and haven’t been able to teach their kids?
I think the proudest parents are the ones whose graduating teenagers can demonstrate responsibility and celebrate maturely. And “maturely” doesn’t mean doing adult things as a minor. Any teenager can stumble over minimal standards.
After all, graduating is one thing. Proving you’ve learned something is what counts.