As we are again in the midst of the high school prom season it never ceases to amaze me that students think nothing of spending hundreds of dollars on an evening's outing.
dTC Proms are indeed special, and children going to proms should have a good time. However, when children and parents are spending as much as $100 an hour to rent a limousine, several hundred dollars on a prom dress (never to be worn again), $100 for a fancy meal at a restaurant and untold amounts for make-overs, flowers, prom tickets, pictures and other odds and ends, a venerable tradition is becoming a financial burden for all but a few students with wealthy parents or well-paying, after-school jobs.
Westminster High School's senior class has shown some
imagination, creativity and sensitivity in dealing with these escalating costs. Through activities organized during the past eight months, the students raised thousands of dollars and are using that money to reduce the costs of going the prom and to ensure that no student is denied the opportunity to attend.
This is certainly a step in the right direction.
A formal dance is part of growing up. A senior prom is a celebration of accomplishment -- finishing high school. For many students, it marks just the beginning of further accomplishments and celebrations of those achievements. For that reason alone, a senior prom should not just be another school dance.
A senior prom is also a chance to be showy, to look older and to act as an adult. (Proms also have become the occasions where students engage in adult behavior -- drinking being the most notable -- that usually leads to trouble. But that is another issue altogether.)
For boys, dressing in a tuxedo ensures that a prom is not just another date.
For girls, wearing an elegant prom dress with matching shoes and a fancy hairdo really helps boost the ego. Even girls who are insecure about their appearances look, and feel, radiant on prom night.
American high school proms have gone beyond just the dressing-up. Instead of being a special dance and the social highlight of the school year, contemporary proms have taken on an unwarranted grandiosity. They are held in hotels and country clubs. A meal at a fancy restaurant is de rigueur, as is transportation in a limousine.
Most students don't want to hold their proms in dowdy school gyms. Even with fancy decorations, it is hard to hide the reality that gyms were designed for phys ed classes, not fancy dances.
(One digression: I attended a Baltimore Symphony gala at the Fifth Regiment Armory in Baltimore about eight years ago and was flabbergasted to see that cold, cavernous hulk of a building transformed into a festive ballroom.)
Jonathan Lieberman, Westminster High's 1993 class president, said his fellow students needed a large space to accommodate the large crowd (550 students in the class plus their dates). After careful consideration, students decided that the Omni Hotel in Baltimore best suited their needs.
Recognizing that holding the prom in a hotel is costly, the students organized several fund-raisers during the year. They earned thousands of dollars and are using that to reduce the cost of a prom ticket to $30 each.
Renting a limousine -- the stretchier the better -- for a prom has certainly become popular. Most limousine companies will charge Carroll kids several hundred dollars for the round trip to Baltimore -- a hefty price for a car ride. Many students will double and triple up on the limousine, but the cost will still amount to between $50 and $100 a couple.
To get around the high cost of prom transportation, the class has also chartered a bus to transport prom goers from the school to the hotel at no charge. Riding in the bus, like the limousine, is a much safer way of traveling but at a much lower cost.
While Jonathan admits that the bus doesn't have the cachet of riding in a limousine, he said that at least 50 students have indicated they will take the bus.
"If enough kids sign up," he says, "it should really be fun."
The students at Westminster raised several thousand dollars -- enough money to throw the prom of the century -- but they also seem to understand there is more to their senior year than staging an extravaganza. The class is donating part of its hard-earned money to the incoming freshman class to give it a financial head start for its programs and its senior prom.
Proms are supposed to be memorable, and for a 17- or 18-year-old, a senior prom may seem to be the most important event in his or her life. But teen-agers also have to realize that the memory of a prom will eventually pale next to graduating from college, getting married or becoming a parent.
Through their dedicated efforts to raise the money and their thoughtful use of those earnings, the senior class at Westminster High probably will have a quite a memorable prom next Saturday.
Although some Carroll residents have criticized the class for staging the event outside the county, members of this graduating class -- through their generosity to fellow classmates and next year's freshman class -- have demonstrated that they have learned lessons more important than how to put on an extravagant ball.
Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.