If I were a high school senior this spring and learned that prom would be cancelled, I can’t begin to tell you how elated I’d be.
That’s a terrible thing to say, I know. It minimizes the impact the pandemic is having on life’s simple things, things generations of us have taken for granted. Not much has been taken for granted this spring, not since schools were called off and businesses were closed, not since hospitals filled and the idea of something as simple as a hug turned into a potential source of a deadly infection. Kids today have a pretty good idea what they’re missing.
All across the country this spring, high school seniors are being denied nearly all the familiar rituals of the last days of school — proms, track meets, spring music and band concerts, even baccalaureate and commencement services. Gosh, all across the country, those young men and women are being denied the ever-so-ordinary experiences of sitting in math classes, jostling each other in the hallways between classes, struggling with a balky locker padlock, laughing and joking their way out the door after last period.
I’m old, but I still remember that unique feeling of freedom that came every afternoon when my buddies and I pushed our way out of the classroom when the final bell rang, tossed our books into our lockers and swaggered down the crowded hall and out the schoolhouse door. Chuck Berry captured the essence of my Class of 62 in his song “School Days,” with lyrics like, “Soon as three o’clock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down. Close up your books, get out of your seat, down the hall and into the street.” When I recall my senior year in high school, I sometimes think the soundtrack from the movie “American Graffiti” was meant for my life — Wolfman Jack, ’58 Chevy and all.
While I get as nostalgic as the next old guy over Chuck Berry songs and Ron Howard movies, a knot forms in my stomach when I think of some of my prom experiences. Proms were made for the extroverts of this world. Introverts like me got dragged along for the ride. The fact that I actually worked up the nerve to ask Nancy Gust to be my prom date shows to what lengths an introvert can be pushed in the name of young love
I’m pretty sure whoever ran the school stayed up nights thinking of ways to make the prom experience as painful as humanly possible for the socially awkward among the student body.
Look, my sophomore year, I didn’t even go to prom and I had a miserable time. In those days, the school honored seniors at a pre-prom banquet. Some sadist thought it would be great for the honor roll students in the sophomore class to serve the meal for juniors and seniors. Who even thinks like that? Who puts 16-year-old boys in white shirts and bow ties and asks them to carry plates filled with food among tables where the older kids sat? Who expects them to carry a pitcher of water among those same tables and to refill glasses without spilling on gowns and tuxes? Who thinks a good report card means a guy won’t drop the bowl of gravy? I proved that person wrong.
I took Nancy to prom my junior year. We had dated for a couple of months, but I still had to formally ask her. My mom instructed me to ask what color dress she planned to wear. That’s none of my business, I said. You’ll have to match the corsage color to the dress. I learned. “Seriously? She didn’t have to ask what color suit I planned to wear. (If she had, I’d have said “The dark brown one since it’s the only suit I own.”) I was class president so we led the grand march — just one more opportunity to humiliate a guy. I tell you, somebody does spend all their waking hours thinking this stuff up.
For all that misery, though, dancing with Nancy was worth it. I feel bad that this year’s seniors won’t have an experience like that.