Picking out the perfect dress or tux, taking pictures of a corsage being placed on a wrist, and awkward slow dancing at the end of the night are all things the last two graduating classes didn’t experience.
Remember senior prom?
“It’s a huge event,” Lincoln High School senior Sebastian Pallais-Aks said. “Every adult I talk to in my life has wonderful things to say about their prom experience.”
The 2022 graduating class will be the first to put on a prom since Seattle schools were forced to go remote. Typically, students would have been fundraising during the last couple of years but that wasn’t possible for most.
School districts don’t typically fund proms — that money is fundraised by students with the help of parents. These formal dances cost thousands of dollars to stage. And with graduation just a few months away, students at some Seattle high schools realized they were running out of time.
“What we want as a senior class is the feeling of a normal school year after being online and in COVID,” said Alicia Salva, a senior at Lincoln High School. “Prom is one of the things that’s a rite of passage. It’s the big event being talked about so much. It’s the thing to look forward to.”
Even in a normal year, equity is at play: “In South End schools, students don’t have funds and parents don’t have funds to throw prom at the end of senior year,” said Delano Cordova, a Franklin High senior.
So students turned to the Seattle School Board for help.
On Dec. 15, students from Franklin, Chief Seattle International and Lincoln high schools appeared during the public comment portion of the board meeting and asked members for help paying for prom. After they spoke, interim Superintendent Brent Jones — a graduate of Franklin High — assured them he would find a way to make prom happen.
“I attended the Franklin prom … and I remember how glorious it was,” Jones told them. “It’s a fantastic event and we’re going to try and make it happen for you.”
District administrators helped connect students with Seattle Center, which agreed to offer its halls for free — usually the most expensive part of the event. Students at each high school in the district can choose between three venues: Fisher Pavilion, Exhibition Hall and the Armory Food & Event Hall.
“The Seattle Center is incredibly excited to work with SPS on this project,” said Chelsea Riddick-Most, director of programs and events. “We know this has been a challenging time for students and administrators and we’re doing our part to support ending the year on a high note.”
The Class of 2022 has not had a normal high school experience by any measure. These students started as freshmen in fall 2018, so they only had one traditional year of high school before everything changed. Partway through their sophomore year, schools shut down to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Through all the uncertainties, Lincoln and Franklin high school students said they wanted at least one thing to look forward to — senior prom.
Lincoln has an unusual challenge — it’s starting from scratch to build the prom tradition. The Wallingford high school closed in 1981 because of falling enrollment, then reopened in 2019 as enrollment rose again. The Class of 2022 will be the first graduating class since the school reopened.
Older high schools are more established and have existing relationships with vendors, said Nicole Cafe, a senior at Lincoln. Those schools also have a funding model that is passed down from class to class.
Part of the goal for the school’s prom committee is to set a model for how to organize and fundraise for prom so it’s easier for future graduating classes, Pallais-Aks said.
But the pandemic also put a halt to fundraising for prom even at older schools like Franklin, Cordova said.
Because of the ongoing COVID threat, there’s still a chance prom could be canceled. Students were concerned they wouldn’t be able to refund tickets, Pallais-Aks said. Estimated costs for venues were around $15,000, he said.
“Now that the venue is free there is less financial liability,” Pallais-Aks said. “The biggest thing for our process is how to navigate the uncertainty and COVID restrictions that will be going on in May or June.”
Prom is still expensive for each student wanting to attend. Students have to pay for tickets, dresses, tuxedos, transportation, corsages, dinner and photos. But with the costs of the venue covered, tickets will be cheaper for students, Cafe said. The senior class is paying for things like catering and decorations.
Franklin and Lincoln students said most of their peers are contemplating their prom outfits. Salva said she is attempting to make her own prom dress. Cordova said he wants to incorporate something from his grandpa and his friends into his prom suit.