In my three years at Urban, I’ve gone to prom three times. Each time, it’s been fun to dress up, take photos and dance with my friends. It may come as a surprise, then, that I believe four-year prom negatively impacts students’ experiences at Urban.
In countless movies and TV shows, we are reminded that American prom is supposed to be an essential rite of passage that, for seniors, celebrates the last moments of high school, and, for juniors, marks the beginning of their leadership in the school community. But Urban’s prom, which is open to all four grades, values casual fun at the expense of a richer experience.
As Charlotte Worsley, Head of Student Life, reminded us before this year’s prom, Urban’s administration has concluded that important events must be open to the entire school. But the consequence of this decision is that Urban’s prom — an event that should feel novel and exciting — ends up feeling routine. After three years of attendance (as a junior, I can’t speak for the senior experience), the novelty of a fancy school dance wears off. This is where our prom fails Urban students most: Right when it should mark a milestone in our high school years, it loses the excitement that lends the event its traditional power.
Beyond prom, Urban as an institution lacks traditions that celebrate the growth that takes place as students mature during our time in high school. Compared to our glut of all-school events, like the fall dance, winter formal, triple-header and spring prom, we have few moments that emphasize the uniqueness of each grade. The continual reduction in class days, which have historically served to prompt reflection, compounds this problem (we’re down to only one day next fall!). While there are moments that celebrate each year’s passage, there are few that celebrate the passage and significance of the entire four years of the Urban experience. That nebulous, undefinable thing — the Urban experience — becomes reduced to four nearly-identical cycles: freshman, sophomore, junior, senior.
Two-year prom, which would limit attendance to upperclassmen, could become one of those celebrations.
Two-year prom has nothing to do with whether or not anyone wants freshmen at prom, to quote the oft-stated reason for maintaining a four-year event. The issue is that prom does not differentiate itself from any other dance. Prom should represent something more than a glorified fall dance, albeit with food, a cooler venue, and fancier clothes. It should be meaningful, and one would be hard-pressed to find anybody who believes that the fall dance — while often fun — is a meaningful experience.
Prom, in my view, should celebrate those two rites of passage: Finishing high school and becoming a leader in the school community. Because Urban is such a small school, a single two-year prom open to both juniors and seniors would serve both of these functions. In this new conception, prom would become something to look forward to as a milestone and would serve as a moment of reflection and celebration. It would be novel rather than a given. It would ground students in the Urban experience, marking it as a unique milestone of growing up. By creating a more intimate environment, it would make the event even more enjoyable, community-building, and something worth remembering.
Supporters of four-year prom may argue that it fosters a casual environment — given four chances to attend prom, students feel less pressure about each year’s event. However, four-year prom simply dilutes the pressures and expenses throughout four years rather than actually reducing them. Exchanging a bit of concentrated pressure for a more significant experience is a trade that I am willing to accept.
While the Urban community can agree that students enjoy four-year prom, two-year prom would be even more fun. What matters is that prom is something students will anticipate, enjoy and remember. Ultimately, we forget the experiences that feel routine, but we remember what’s twice-in-a-lifetime.