The History of Upper & Senior Prom

Prom—the culminating highschool night that some people spend endless hours anticipating and preparing for. Between dress shopping, scheduling book stylist appointments, and preparing “prom-posals,” Prom is an experience that has stayed true throughout the decades. While Andover’s Prom has undergone various changes since the tradition first began, many similarities still remain.

In 1915, the Abbot Academy Prom was first mentioned in “The Circle”, the Academy’s yearbook. In a list named “The Last Will and Testament of 1915” stylized in old English letters, the Abbot Academy class of 1915 outlined a sarcastic list of demands they had for the remaining students at the school. To the “junior-mids,” they bulleted, “Great expectations of the ‘Prom’.”

Although Prom was briefly mentioned in the 1915 edition of “The Circle”, it slowly gained more significance in the following years’ yearbooks. Eventually, in 1957, Prom was first reported to have a theme, mentioned in the yearbook as “THE SENIOR PROM, OR A SLOW BOAT TO CHINA.” The activities of the night included dining, dancing, and listening to live music. Many of “The Circle’s” images were captioned with stereotypical slogans against the Chinese community.

According to “Time Magazine”, the explanation behind the growing prominence of Prom in the 1950’s could be attributed to “a thriving postwar economy,” allowing high schools to direct greater attention to the event.

In the “Abbot Academy Handbook,” a book of rules similar to the Blue Book, students of all ages were permitted to attend Prom at other boys preparatory schools. Senior girls were also allowed to attend Prom at mens colleges. However, more recently, Uppers were barred from attending the Senior Prom. According to a past Phillipian article, the administration announced this change in January of 2020. The decision harbored many mixed reactions from students.

In 2022, the Upper/Senior Prom debate still persists. While some students argue there is no sufficient reason for non-Seniors to be present at Prom, others claim the exclusion of Uppers accentuates division between grades.

Sui Yu ’23 expressed mild disappointment about Prom not being open to Uppers. However, she noted that the exclusion of eleventh graders presents its own unique opportunities for current Uppers.

“Though I wish I could go to prom as an Upper, I’m not too heartbroken about it. It just makes my Senior prom more special plus, I’ll only have to stress about a dress and a date once instead of twice. It would be nice to spend a night with the seniors before they graduated though,” said Yu.

Four-year Senior Melanie Garcia ’22 explained how the regulations surrounding who is allowed at the Prom could interfere with romantic relationships. She brought up how students who want to bring a date from Andover in the same grade as them are free to do so, however, Seniors who hope to bring dates that don’t fit into those rules lose part of the experience.

“The main reasoning I’ve heard—although I’m not sure whether it’s true—is that prom is supposed to be a night just for the Seniors. But I don’t think that Seniors taking a date to share that night with them necessarily violates that, since prom would still be centered around Seniors anyway. Having dates to prom is a tradition that still persists at Andover, and keeping Uppers and non-Andover partners of Seniors from participating seems to hinder the experience of Seniors. Of course, I don’t know how prom night actually plays out, so this is all what I’d imagine,” said Garcia.

Susan Esty, Cluster Dean of Abbot, explained the administration’s reasoning behind the decision. Esty commented on the value of sharing an experience like Prom between individual grades. She also remarked that when Uppers and non-Andover students are allowed to attend, an external pressure to find dates is applied.

“[Covid-19] showed [the administration] that having just the Class of ’21 for Senior events made for a special time that really brought the class together and led to some good changes as well as some disappointment at not being able to invite non-PA guests or Uppers… By holding prom as a class event, Seniors went with friends and in groups and, I think, felt more of a sense that it was a dance for everyone, not for couples, and that made it feel more inclusive in every way,” wrote Esty in an email to The Phillipian.