“At first, nobody really knew whether to dance,” Miranda Myers said of her prom at Lee’s Summit High School, adding that the dance floor was soon filling up. (Courtesy Jessica Brown)
Just a few months ago, many of this year’s high school students did not know whether there would be a prom at the end of another unusual year.
One of the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic was the loss of some of the last moments of youth: meeting at soccer games, sitting with friends in the canteen, and receiving a diploma on stage in front of loved ones.
But in a time marked by uncertainty and change, this phase of the pandemic looks very different from before. Vaccines are now available to adolescents 12 years and older, and more than 50% of the US population have received at least one dose of a vaccine. The daily average of reported Covid-19 cases has dropped below 20,000 – from more than 250,000 in January, according to Johns Hopkins University.
America’s advances against the virus have brought back long-awaited milestones: weddings, baby showers, birthday parties and, for many college students, the return of their year-end prom. Although it looked different than most years, administrators said they worked hard to make it feel as good as possible.
“The thing about Covid isn’t just that we missed things, we haven’t been able to mark the final years of high school with milestones,” said Morgan Halady, senior Kingston High School. “When I finally got out of my house … I finally felt like a senior. I finally felt something of this closure – that’s how it is. “
CNN spoke to students from Conard High School in Connecticut, Lee’s Summit High School in Missouri, and Kingston High School in Washington state to see what a prom looks like in a new normal.
For most years, the prom is an opportunity to dress up and celebrate a big transition surrounded by friends. But for this year’s upper class it has got a much bigger meaning.
Zach Tempia walks into prom at the Seattle Aquarium holding his card to make sure he’s healthy. (Courtesy of the Olympic Photo Group)
Ed Call distributes daily wellness certificates to students attending prom. From left: Olivia Call, Olivia Costello, Thomas Brown and Curtis Upton. (Courtesy of the Olympic Photo Group)
Lee’s Summit High School students check in to attend prom on their soccer field. (Courtesy Jessica Brown)
Whether entering the Seattle Aquarium like the Kingston students did, or on the school football field like the high school students at Lee’s Summit, entering this year’s ballroom felt like a victory.
Many students said they had studied remotely year-round and had not been with their peers in months. And with more ball events opening at short notice as gathering restrictions eased, some weren’t sure they would go until the last minute.
“It’s a maybe for everything this year,” said Kingston Senior Kylee Walker. “I wasn’t really sure if I would go just because the whole year was really questionable.”
But even with the restrictions relaxed, many schools maintained the precautions. At Kingston High School prom, students filled out yellow cards to confirm their health. They competed with their pre-selected groups of 10 and were given a bracelet to mark their group. When entering the country, the temperature was also measured.
Cassidy Cannon, left, Sophie Capps-Hawkins and Kaitlee Tellez dance at Conard’s prom. (Courtesy Premier Portraits Studio, LLC)
Morgan Halady has her fever measured to attend Kingston’s prom in her coordinated ensemble. (Courtesy of the Olympic Photo Group)
Jazmin Maldonado, left, Destiny Colon and teaching assistant Brianna Bobo photograph the celebrations. (Courtesy Premier Portraits Studio, LLC)
It was important for Halady not to let Covid-19 take away the whole experience. She selected a silver dress with sequins, perfected her eye makeup, and went online with friends to find masks that would complement her eyesight.
“We wanted to make it kind of formal and match our clothes instead of wearing the usual paper masks. At Covid we had to adjust to a lot. The mask doesn’t feel like it’s robbing you of the night, “said Halady.
But for others, an unusual prom called for a much more relaxed ensemble. Conard High School usually holds their prom in a hall but took it outside to be Covid-19 safe. This change was faced with another complication: unusually cold weather.
An hour before the event, Conard students were on their Facebook group page getting creative. To keep warm over their prom outfits, students chose to wear their college sweatshirts, said Chloe Scrimgeour, the senior high school president.
“I loved putting the sweatshirt on,” said Sophie Capps-Hawkins. “I like the dress up, dress down combo.”
Jonathan Casiano Jr. is at the center of the dance floor. (Courtesy Premier Portraits Studio, LLC)
Elaine Watson, left, Sophia Niblock and Cheyenne Valentine dance at the Lees Summit High School prom. (Courtesy Jessica Brown)
Laura Geiersbach turns into Cornhole. (Courtesy Jessica Brown)
For entertainment, some events took a traditional route while others tried something new.
Lee’s Summit High School found a way to make the most of their soccer field with yard games like Giant Jenga and Cornhole. While not the traditional ball entertainment, Hannah Phillips said she enjoyed listening to music surrounded by friends while they played games together in their dresses and suits.
Conard students kept dancing. At first, the students came out slowly on the dance floor. Except for Johnathan Casiano Jr., who tore it apart from the start. But at the end of the night, Capps-Hawkins said she was dancing like crazy to Cotton Eye Joe and Teach Me How to Dougie.
An ice cream truck was the main dinner event at Lee’s Summit prom. (Courtesy Jessica Brown)
Kingston’s prom students were served a full meal with a salad class, hot meal, and chocolate cake, Senior Morgan Halady said. (Courtesy of the Olympic Photo Group)
Eating – the only activity that required removing masks – took different forms in schools.
For Kingston’s prom, the meal remained formal. Grouped by their bracelet, friends who signed up for the prom got their table immediately. They ate a three course meal and then stayed at their tables together unless they were on the dance floor so as not to mingle.
“Prom was full so our dinner was waiting for us when we showed up,” Halady said. “Chicken on mashed potatoes and asparagus – it was delicious!”
At Lee’s Summit, food was limited to prepackaged chips, fruit snacks, and drinks – with the exception of an ice cream van. The truck was there most of the night and had more flavors than Philips claimed to have ever heard of.
Alyssa Martinez (left) and Jessica Nogueria pose for a portrait. (Courtesy Premier Portraits Studio, LLC)
Nathan Souza, left, Stephanie Reuning-Scherer and Cassidy Cannon embrace. (Courtesy Premier Portraits Studio, LLC)
Nathan Maloy, left, and Yuchien Chen stand for a snap at Conard’s prom. (Courtesy Premier Portraits Studio, LLC)
Kaitlee Tellez (left) and Izabella Ricciardi pose in matching red dresses. (Courtesy Premier Portraits Studio, LLC)
For many of the students who worked on planning this year’s prom, the journey was not easy. Arianna Fandozzi, the Conard High School prom chairwoman, said she wasn’t sure they could even have a prom in September. Then their venue changed in January under Covid restrictions, and it wasn’t until April that the restrictions were lifted enough to allow all seniors to attend the prom.
Kyler Coe-Yarr applauds as Maguire Setterlund and Mia Sax are crowned by Lisa Gray-Fritz. (Courtesy of the Olympic Photo Group)
At the end of the event, the student organizers said they looked around and felt fulfilled after such a difficult year seeing everyone together, laughing and having a good time.
“That’s not how I imagined my prom to be, but I don’t think it was a bad thing,” said Scrimgeour.