In recent years, the American tradition of the end of year prom for senior high-schoolers has carried itself over the pond and started to become a trend in England too. The concept of prom seems unproblematic enough; who am I to criticise teenagers for celebrating their youth with their friends? Fundamentally, however, Year 11 proms seem unnecessary; they are primarily an excuse to get money off teenagers and their parents beyond the worth of the event itself. It is this attempt to capitalise on teenage sentimentality that I am opposed to.
Having a prom at the end of Year 11 seems to miss exactly what it is that prom is celebrating. American proms are about remembering, and saying goodbye to, the high school experience. This is because they come at the end of senior year, as students prepare to go off to colleges and start their lives in separate places and with different people than those that have defined their lives for the last couple of years. For many Year 11 students, however, prom simply represents a change to a new school or college and a goodbye to a couple of friends. For most, it is certainly not the life changing experience that American high schoolers are celebrating.
Instead, most Year 11 proms are held at schools at which many of the pupils will continue to study, only to experience another prom at the end of year 13. What, therefore, are people celebrating or saying goodbye to? In fact, it only makes the excitement of the second prom, a prom commemorating the end of a school life completely different to the future that waits, seem muted because half of the people have done it before. The joys of finding a dress and dancing with your peers, perhaps for the last time, is somewhat hampered by the fact that this has already been experienced, and as such, what should be ‘a night to remember’ becomes almost tedious in its anticipation.
Instead of the special event they are hyped up to be, proms seem merely reminiscent of school discos – but with a much higher price. American schools have various school dances throughout the year, so the English trend of prom seems like an adoption of a tradition inconsistent with our own school system, in which school-organised parties are rare. There is nothing wrong with a dance, but proms have created a whole industry in which teenagers can spend huge amounts of money on the perfect outfit, hair and make up for an event that offers little more than the average school disco. Of course, it is possible to do prom in a low-key and inexpensive fashion, but when it is marketed as an unmissable highlight of the teenage experience there is a pressure to fulfil this adolescent fantasy. This creates an expectation that will only disappoint whilst also setting up an aesthetic ideal that requires expense.
I question the need for such an event when its existence seems more concerned with gaining profit from teenagers and less with actually providing them with an experience worthy of their effort and money. Year 11 proms are undoubtedly full of fond memories for some, and the concept itself is not one I would have a problem with – as long as it is ensured that the people who benefit most are the teenagers who attend and not the businesses who profit from these teenagers’ desire to celebrate their school years.