Prom. I could tell you a lot about the French roots of the word and how se promener (“to walk”) no doubt preceded the Promenade that Andover teenagers will walk this June, a rite of passage taken as students move from high school to the next stage of their lives.
I could not, however, tell you much about where this rather archaic activity comes from, why it has become so essential to the American high school experience, nor the roots of the many smaller traditions that govern it: Seniors in long dresses, Uppers in short ones; boys buying corsages for girls; parading two by two around the campus.
There is a lot to enjoy about Senior Prom. It is, in many ways, a celebration. A celebration of friendship, romance and the end of high school. It is dancing and food and a night to dress up. For me, as well as for many other Andover students, it will be one of the last hurrahs with my best friends before we scatter ourselves around the globe.
But unfortunately there are many, many more things to dislike about Prom, particularly in its current iteration.
It is almost too obvious to address issue of cost – the fact that prom is decidedly an exclusive affair for those who can afford it, rather than for all who deserve to enjoy it. There is the issue of “tables,” of who sits with whom, who is counted among each others’ friends. There is the issue of attire: of who’s wearing what dress, who stole someone else’s prom look, and even worse, the fact that we all must decide to dress within the formal and arbitrary binary of tuxedo or flowing dress.
But worst of all is the issue of who’s taking whom. And it’s not simply a question of friend groups, of elaborate proposals or unfortunate rejections. It’s a much deeper issue – it is a question of whether or not we are ready to stop promoting the “old boys’ school” attitudes of pre-coeducational Andover.
In the most obvious sense, to move towards the model of inclusivity our current strategic plan encourages would mean to alter the current Promenade to recognize the presence of students on campus who identify outside of the gender binary, and towards a promenade that is far less heteronormative.
In an equally important, but perhaps less concrete sense, Promenade simply needs to be more inclusive overall. It’s one of the last nights of Senior year. Nobody wants to endure a flashback to middle school, of being relegated to the corner while the “popular clique” takes center stage – an experience, furthermore, that so many of us claim to know. Prom is a time for friends to just be – it’s not about social status. So let’s make sure that nobody feels left out.
Now, I would usually call for administrative- or faculty-motivated change, as I’ve often done at the end of my Commentary articles. But this isn’t something that the administration or faculty can change. It’s also not as if students make the “Prom rules.” Students blindly follow a set of bizarre and archaic rituals despite being entirely unaware of their history.
When it comes to making prom inclusive, the opportunity to make change is entirely in our hands. So let’s do it. Maybe I’m biased, but I think the Class of 2015 has a unique legacy of productive, progressive and inclusive change. We still have two more months, and we can continue to spark changes on campus.