Friday, April 07, 2006

Just Saying "No" To Limousines And Tuxedos

With prom season soon upon us, a couple of Long Island New York high schools that canceled their senior proms last year are about to reinstate them. But there will be some changes:
Two Long Island high schools that canceled their annual senior proms- after years of burgeoning excess that included liquor-loaded limos and weekend house rentals in the Hamptons- announced a compromise Tuesday that will have students attending chaperone-laden dinner cruises around Manhattan.

Instead of limousines, tuxedos and fancy ball gowns, students will dress "business class" - jackets and ties for the boys and dresses for the girls - and travel via coach bus to and from their schools to a Manhattan pier, where they will board a boat for a dinner/dance cruise.

Faculty members also will attend. The cost is expected to be about $100 per student - tip money compared to some of the wild parties of the past.

"The thing that we're most pleased about is that this recommendation came from the students," said Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland, the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale.

Hoagland sparked a national debate about the ostentatiousness and debauchery that accompanies many senior proms when he said last fall that his school would no longer sponsor the annual spring flings.

Weeks after Hoagland canceled the Kellenberg prom, officials at nearby Chaminade High School also said they would no longer be in the prom business. Both are private Catholic schools run by the Marianist religious order of priests and brothers.

Hoagland had issued a 2,000-word missive to Kellenberg students and parents, decrying the "bacchanalian aspects" of that school's prom:

"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake _ in a word, financial decadence," Hoagland said in his letter.

Hoagland said that after an Associated Press story about the canceled proms was widely published last October, he received more than 5,000 e-mails from as far away as Australia, Mexico, Canada, and around the United States, and only 19 criticized the decision.

"Most people told us that proms were out of control and we were right on the mark," he said.

He said the decision to cancel the prom "awakened people and gave them courage to stand up, and I think that has helped restore things to sanity."

"The students came to us ... after reading our letter, saying they understand there have been abuses and they accept that as a problem," Hoagland said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "They would just like to have an event that celebrates their four years together and the idea of a dinner cruise was agreeable to us."

One parent, Edward Lawson, who initially decried the decision to cancel the prom at Kellenberg, said he was pleased a compromise could be reached.

"I think it's a great idea; the kids will all be together," said Lawson, whose son Robert is a senior. "It's a great compromise. The kids stood up for themselves and the administration is going along with it. That's great. It's a win-win situation for everybody."

The Rev. James Williams, president of Chaminade, said the revised celebration "is much more consistent with the values we adhere to" at the Catholic high school.

"It doesn't have all the flamboyance and the over-the-topness of 'how can I outdo somebody else,"' said Williams. He added that in recent years, the prom "became a question of who had the biggest limousine, who had the most outrageous outfit. And now all that's gone."
I can't say that I disagree in principle with the school's decision, though I don't particularly have a problem with students wearing ball gowns and (usually rented) tuxedos. Having said that, I've never been able to grasp the reasons why otherwise prudent parents would spend such gargantuan amounts of money on what is, in all honesty, a dressed-up school dance.

In my mother's day, our high school in Winter Haven, Florida used to stage its senior prom at a nearby exhibition hall. The theme for her senior prom (Class of '55.) was "My Blue Heaven." By the time I reached high school, the prom had metamorphosed into a large-scale limousine-laden extravaganza held at Disney World, some 50 miles away. If there was a theme, I can't recall it.
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