“Mister, can we speak with you?” three young ladies asked as they approached me one day between classes.
They were there on behalf of a fourth young lady, their friend Danielle. It was prom season and Danielle wanted to go but didn’t have the funds. From time to time I would anonymously pay for things that students couldn’t afford such as the spring break college tour, senior graduation dues, and the prom. But it’s hard for things like this to stay secret for very long. Word eventually leaks out.
Now let me be absolutely clear, I have never been to a prom, I will never ever go to a prom. Students learned to stop asking me to be a chaperone a long time ago.
“I’d rather stick pins in my eyeballs,” became one of my standard responses to their requests. That and, “I’d rather wrestle a grizzly bear than go to a prom!”
But that’s just me. I want our students to have a wonderful time at their prom and a wonderful memory.
The young ladies asked me if I would pay for Danielle’s prom ticket. I was touched that they came to me on behalf of their friend. They also let me know that Danielle didn’t have her father’s permission to attend the prom. They knew not to hide that bit of information from me. I would be happy to pay for her ticket, I told them, but I was concerned about Danielle not having her father’s approval. I told the girls that I would speak with her that day.
When I caught up with Danielle later that afternoon, I said,
“I’d be happy to pay for your prom, but your father’s disapproval bothers me.”
Very quickly she responded, “Mister, I’m eighteen. He can’t keep me from going. Besides, it’s not that he disapproved, I’m just not telling him about it. And I’m not going with some boy, it’s just me and the girls.”
One of the things that I love about our kids today is their prom traditions. Many students go to the event as a group rather than pairing off as couples. This is especially true at my school as girls outnumber boys 4 or 5 to 1. Prom is an opportunity for our students to celebrate four years together, knowing that for the most part after graduation they will never see each other again.
Danielle won me over. I signed up for what I later found out was a more involved conspiracy to get her to the prom.
The Monday after the prom I asked Danielle to see pictures. She looked gorgeous. More importantly she looked so very, very happy. I didn’t ask for details upfront, but once it was over the fine points of the scheme emerged: I was only one piece in the conspiracy. It turns out that Danielle’s friends went to another teacher and signed him up to buy her prom dress. Danielle told her father that she was spending that Friday night at her friend Karen’s house in the Bronx, which she did. Her father’s girlfriend secretly met her up there that evening and did her makeup and hair.
I never asked her if her dad found out, or if she eventually told him.
My prom stories aren’t over. (How’s that for someone who has never been to a prom?)
Ashley was a memorable student. Hardworking, kind, gracious – these are just some of the words that describe her. She was also, how do I say this respectfully, a bit of a tomboy. She carried a basketball with her as if it were an appendage. I honestly couldn’t begin to imagine her wearing a skirt or a dress.
The Monday after the prom Ms. Long, a longtime prom chaperone, is sharing pictures with me.
“Mason, look really good at this one.”
It was a shot of a smartly dressed couple. I recognized Chuckie, and his date sort of looked familiar. She was beautiful. She was in a full length gown, had long flowing hair, makeup, the whole nine yards.
“Is that…?” I asked.
Ms. Long cut me off.
“Mason, let me tell you. I walked up to Chuckie and said, ‘Chuckie, aren’t you going to introduce me to your date?’”
“Ms. Long, don’t you know me?” the young lady said to Ms. Long. “I’m Ashley!”
“Mason,” Ms. Long continued, “I nearly fell to the floor. I hugged her and wouldn’t, no, I couldn’t let go.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she recalled the moment. That night Ashley’s classmates voted her Prom Queen!
Fast forward to prom the following year.
“Mason, you gotta see this one.”
Ms. Long showed me a picture from that weekend’s prom. A young couple was in an embrace with broad smiles. This time I recognized them both right away. It was Cecily, a senior, and her girlfriend Ashley – this time in a stylish tux with a fresh haircut in a tight fro. Dude was sharp!
Life has a way of just making you smile.