High School Proms in America

Now that May is here what better time for a post about the prom? It’s time for high school seniors and juniors in America to get ready for the big dance. Let me back-step a little for my Swiss friends reading this. You may well have only understood the first part of the beginning “Now that it is May”.

What is a Prom?

High school is the last four years of mandatory school in America and includes grades 9 through 12. Students range in age from 14 to 17 or 18. Each year also has a title, the first year is your freshman year. The second is called your sophomore year. The third year is your junior year. Your senior year is the last year or 12th grade.

The prom is the dance. If you are wondering why it is called a “prom” I believe it has something to do with promenading. In much earlier times when someone was ready for adulthood they would get dressed up and promenade. My friends and I also went to the prom and in essence, that was what we were doing, too. Dressing up and going out. In June school is over for the seniors, they either go to the university or find a job. This is a turning point in their lives.

The prom is a big, big deal. It’s a huge school dance usually reserved for juniors and seniors. It is held close to the end of the school year, which is June. There is a student dance committee that chooses the dance theme and organizes everything. When I was in high school (ehem… a long, long time ago), it was held in the gymnasium. There was a band, dance floor, refreshments and probably chaperones, although I don’t remember seeing anyone. You even had to buy a ticket to get in (or your date did).

A Swiss Prom?

There is nothing similar to this in Swiss schools. Firstly, Swiss mandatory school only goes to the 9th grade so we are talking 14 to 15 year olds. Although many go onto the next level of school, many start their apprentices in their chosen fields. So it is a big change in their lives.

In one of the schools that Ben taught the closest they came to a “prom” was at the school “graduation”. There, each class did some kind of presentation with parents attending to watch. Quite often the girls got together before the show and decided to dress up. Of course, their idea of dress up was a short black cocktail dress. After the presentation was over they left with their friends to go to dinner.

Stairway to Heaven

The year I went (on May 10th), the theme was taken from the Led Zeppelin rock song “Stairway to Heaven”. A beautiful song to slow dance to and it’s nice and long. The decorations were variations of heaven and stairways.

Like I said, it was a pretty big deal if you were asked to the dance. As it turned out, for me it was my only prom even though I was a just a junior. Our family moved in the summer before my senior year and I don’t think I went to that prom at all. Ben (an exchange student senior at the time) asked me at the end of March to be his date.

What to Wear

So my mom and I looked through books and books of dress patterns until I found one I liked. Then we went to the fabric store and bought what was needed. I’m not sure if anyone bought their long dresses but all of my friends who went, made their own. Once all of that was figured out I told Ben the color of my dress. He then rented a tux that would look good with yellow. He also had to order a corsage for me and a matching boutonnière for himself. After that we got together with our friends who were also going and made reservations at a restaurant for dinner.

Before the Dance

Before going to the dance your date would usually pick you up in either his car or his parent’s. Being 17 or 18 years old, most seniors (and juniors) had their drivers license. Exchange student weren’t allowed to drive so his American parents drove him to our house. Then it was time to capture the moment with photos, photos and more photos. These are pictures of Ben and me in front of my house. By the way, that is not a parasol I was carrying, it was a bit cool, that was a knitted stole. The other picture is at Ben’s American parent’s home with my best friend and her date, who was driving. I might note that she had also made her dress and was wearing a wrist corsage. After all the film was used up (back then Kodak was still in business) we went to the dance.

At the Dance

It was fun. We danced, drank soda, ate snacks and got our picture taken. There was a professional photographer there snapping pictures (at a price). The couples stood in front of a theme-oriented backdrop. Which was a good thing, because my parents took some seriously underexposed pictures. About a week later you got lots of copies of the photos and exchanged them with your friends.

Also, at the prom the prom Queen was announced. Before the dance, the senior class voted who they wanted to be Queen. Her date was automatically the King. It was a huge deal if you were Prom Queen. I think you got a crown and a special dance just for you and your date. But I’m not really sure because I was just a junior and wasn’t up for any titles. So I wasn’t paying attention.

Sometime in the evening the crowd started thinning as couples left to go to a restaurant of their choosing. We also left and had a great time enjoying ourselves with our friends.

After the Prom

Some people came home after breakfast the next day. Ben and I were home relatively early because the next day was an art show. I had entered a couple of drawings I had done during the year in the youth category. That’s why I had to get there early; to set up. Ben came, too. We were both so tired, but it was worth it. One of my drawings actually got an honorable mention. You can see the white ribbon in the picture.

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