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The evolving American prom

| Sunday, May 20, 2018, 3:18 p.m.

The more the American prom changes, the more it stays the same.

The modern prom, reports Slate, “may be traced to the Ivy League and the annual tradition of a ‘presentation week,' during which formal dress and dancing accompanied a promenade concert.”

In the 20th century, the prom expanded to high schools, and is now a rite of passage for American teens everywhere.

I sure hope this year's promgoers have a better experience than I did in 1980.

I didn't know my date very well. She was in my photography class, pretty and, more important, available.

She laid down the law prior to the big night.

“I heard about you, a regular class clown,” she said. “You better not show up in a limo, wear a top hat or cane or do anything else to embarrass me.”

I knew right away things were going to work out fine.

On the afternoon of the prom, my friend Gigs and I — we double dated — took a drive to the prom hall to make sure we wouldn't get lost later.

Later that evening, we picked up our dates for photos and false enthusiasm. We were late for dinner (we got lost), our dates were steamed, and the awful night was underway.

We hardly saw the two the rest of the night. They spent most of the night chatting with their pals, while Gigs and I counted how many times the hard rock band played Eric Clapton's “Cocaine” (nine).

Finally, around 11:30 p.m., the dance was over. Unlike teens these days, we didn't use our credit cards to party at an after-hours club or retire to a honeymoon suite. We took our dates home.

But our suffering was just beginning.

We picked them up early the next morning and drove to a country cabin, where my friend Cook was having an after-prom party.

The cabin was a two-hour drive, but it took us five (we got lost).

My date didn't utter a word until about 2 p.m., when she challenged Gigs and me to a tennis match. I took it as a good sign. It wasn't.

Gigs is an outstanding athlete and I am no slouch myself. Once the game got underway, our testosterone got inflamed. Every time we scored, Gigs and I high-fived each other. We won soundly and, after the match, the two refused to talk to us.

We arrived home five hours later (we got lost) and the torturous affair was finally over.

Elissa Stein, author of “Prom Night: The Best Night of Your Life,” tells USA Today that the prom is a “reflection of what is going on in the world as a whole.”

That is why, reports the Huffington Post, prom news features are highlighting our evolving views on “racial segregation and integration, LGBTQ rights, police brutality, disability inclusion, respect for women, cultural appropriation and more.”

This year, Stein tells USA Today, the prom offers Generation Z an opportunity to display its uniqueness, diversity and individuality. Many 2018 prom-goers are forgoing traditional gowns in favor of “do-it-yourself” and gender-fluid styles.

As prom trends, styles and traditions evolve, however — as our discussion on how to improve our world continues — one thing remains the same.

The American prom is, at heart, a formal step for teens to begin shedding their adolescence. It's a first foray into the grown-up world that may be as exciting as it is awkward.

Regardless of your experience, prom-goers of the class of '18, be kind to your date. You never know if he or she may one day poke fun at you in a newspaper column.

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. Visit him on the web at

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