“What About Prom, [Shane]?”

True to the masthead I write under, I learned everything I know about high school traditions from the movies of John Hughes. Which is to say, I spent more time watching movies about high school traditions than I spent participating in them. Today, these movies are more dated than a “Where’s the Beef?” T-shirt. As such, my oldest son Cal pays zero attention to the high school lessons I preach. Lessons he aptly named: The Gospel According to John Hughes.

The kid’s got a point. Up until my senior year, I never participated in any of the major high school traditions. I observed them. I never swigged the booze or bagged the babe, but I could tell you who swigged the babe and bagged the booze. I guess you could say I was a bit of a high school anomaly. I was an extroverted introvert who studied hard, had a few close friends, just said “no” to everything, and lived vicariously through the lives of Hughes’s high school heroes and heroines. For me, there were no parties (Sixteen Candles), no detentions (The Breakfast Club), no cutting class (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and no school dances (Pretty in Pink). In fact, I had virtually no life after midnight (The Gremlins).

So by the time my senior prom arrived, the thought of scoring a date sounded downright prom-posterous. For starters, I wasn’t exactly on any girl’s A-list of eligible bachelors. In their rolodexes (remember those?), they filed my number somewhere between N and O. And with the exception of my two sisters, and maybe a few of their mannish friends, I hardly even talked to the opposite sex. In their minds, I was the opposite of sex.

“Good morning! Welcome to another day of higher education!”

In my defense, my oldest siblings didn’t exactly paint a pretty-in-pink picture of high school proms:

  • At her prom, my sister Cindy walked through an unopened glass door and wound up concussed.
  • My sister Sherry’s prom dates equaled the collective coolness of Ernie and Bert.
  • My brother Brett never made it to his senior prom; or senior year for that matter.

Even so, I knew that the senior prom wasn’t just another dance. This time, I couldn’t just say no. As prom night grew closer, my family started reminding me of this very point. Actually, they started to sound like Andie (Molly Ringwald) hammering Blane, her would-be prom date and major appliance: “What about prom, [SHANE]!?!?!” 

Sadly, up until 2 weeks before prom, this Ferris Bueller-sounding promposal was the best offer I got: “My best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who said she might go with you.”  

“This is an incredibly romantic moment, and you’re ruining it for me!”

Inspired by Pretty In Pink’s Duckie, I finally summoned the courage to ask the sweetest girl at Morristown High School to the prom. As I recall, my shaky-legged promposal sounded an awful lot like Rocky Balboa proposing to Adrian:

“Hey yo, Selina. I was just wonderin’ if you
mind goin’ to the prom with me too much?” 

Nonetheless, Selina said YES! I wore a slightly ironic mismatched black-and-white tuxedo. We shared a limo with my 3 best friends. And I enjoyed a prom night that still inspires me to this day.

Flash forward 27 years…

As I worked late last night, and watched social media drive MHS prom photos into the local zeitgeist, I was at a loss for words. So overcome with pure pride and joy, I could only text the following to my wife: “I can’t stop smiling and crying!”

I share my slightly exaggerated story above because I know that every kid at the prom last night has his or her own story. And like bookends to each kid’s story, there are parents who’ve supported their child through it all. As parents, we see beneath the newly coiffed hair, the flawless tuxes/dresses, and the generous helpings of tan spray paint. We see the long, winding, sometimes bumpy road of adolescent life that brought our kids to this destination. And when it comes to high school, let’s face it, getting there isn’t always half the fun. But boy, don’t the memories of “getting there” make moments like last night so much sweeter?

I think of all the demands that parents, teachers, coaches, peers, and cellular devices place on kids. Heck, these demands are probably nothing compared to the demands our kids place on themselves. But for one night–and a long weekend down the shore that has every parent praying to whomever they pray to in times like these–there was only one demand being placed on our kids:

Just go out there and have the time of your life!

For me, prom is the American high school tradition. It’s truly a rite of passage and the one important ritual of American youth that I was proud to have participated in. Today I’m so proud and excited for all those self-tanned and smiling faces that I recognized on social media last night. As for what lays ahead for them this weekend, I’ll let Duckie sum it up for you:

“Oh you know, beer, scotch, juice box… whatever.”

Have a great weekend everybody! “I’m off like a dirty shirt.”

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