Seniors Gear Up for Prom, Downplay Pressure


(Saturday, April 21, 2007 7:36 AM EDT)

Prom season is fast approaching, and seniors look to resources like magazines to help them pick dresses, corsages, tuxes and limos.

But how do they make one of most important decisions of all: With whom I they go?

Amy Best, an associate professor of sociology at George Mason University and author of “Prom Night: Youth, School and Popular Culture,” said she believes students generally choose their dates in three distinct ways:

* Students already in a relationship usually choose to go with their significant other.

* Unattached students often pick a date with the hope that romance will materialize.

* And some students specifically choose a friend, so romance is not on the agenda, she said.

Through her research at four schools in the Northeast, Best found that most students attached the idea of romance to the prom, and that most of them want some kind of date.

“The dominant narrative of prom is romance,” she said in a recent interview. “To do prom well, for a lot of kids, they want to be treated in a romantic fashion with a corsage or flower, or having their date give his jacket if they're cold.”

Best said that many students choose to go as a group, but that the groups are generally made up of individual couples, who might want to share a limo.

The students at Washington-Lee High School that the Sun Gazette surveyed do not appear to have direct pressure on them to bring a date to prom, but most seem to want the classic prom experience.

“I'll probably go with a date just because it's prom,” said senior Tyler Million, who plans to bring a date. “There isn't really pressure [to go with a date], but it's tradition to go with someone.”

The pressure to have sex on prom night also does not seem too high.

“There's no pressure,” said senior Kelly DiFilippo. “It's not about ‘doing it' on prom night.”

“I think with a lot of guys, they say ‘you have to do it,' but there's no real pressure,” said senior Erlan Guzman.

Sometimes, whether students go with a date, a friend or a group isn't completely in their hands, because of deals they've made with their classmates.

“It depends on my friend,” said Washington-Lee senior Katlyn Allmon. “If she doesn't have a date, then we'll go with a group, but if she does, then I have to ask someone.”

On the whole, date or no date, it seems that most seniors attend their prom mainly to relish last moments of their high school years with friends and teachers.

“What I've noticed as a trend is if students don't have a date, they'll go with friends. Some even come stag and meet up with people,” said Washington-Lee senior-class sponsor and English teacher Rosa Reyes. “They come to have fun and to enjoy one of their last times together.”

“It's icing on the four-year cake of high school,” Million said. “It's a night to have fun with friends.”

Based on the schools Best researched, she estimated that between 70 and 80 percent of students attend their senior prom, and those who don't have varied reasons for not going.

“There are definitely a lot of students who felt like they couldn't go because they didn't have a date,” Best said. “But some don't go because prom is too expensive and some think it's a lame adult event and resist it.”

Other reasons for not attending include having other obligations like the SAT or a sports game the next morning, having a boyfriend or girlfriend who is in college and being resistant to the commercialism of the event, she said.

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