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Prom — Tradition With A Twist

May 2, 2016

A rite of passage between mothers and daughters?

By Susan Kehoe, Ph.D.

With all the ways kids today are different from their parents, surely they’ve given up that traditional, time-honored high school milestone, the prom. But they haven’t — they just do it their own way.

We followed three high school students, one from Seaholm High School, one from Marian High School and one from Plymouth High School, and their mothers, to see how it’s done today. Much about the experience differs today from “the old days,” but what we learned about the bonding experience between mothers and daughters may surprise you.

Allegra and Marci Cunningham — Seaholm High School

The Digital Age of Prom

Photography by Jerry Zolynsky

When Seaholm senior Allegra Cunningham came down the stairs in her prom dress for a dry run, she and her mother, Marci, had an unexpected moment. It was apparent to the bystanders that something in the bond they shared for 18 years solidified in one of those rare, split-second moments life sometimes gives you.

“I became sentimental when I saw the look on my mother’s face, knowing this was one of the last things we’d be doing together before I moved to Ohio,” Allegra said.

Allegra’s dress is a contemporary, two-piece gown with a black cropped top and a long sophisticated skirt.

Asking Mom how it compares with her prom dress, Marci said, “I wore white to my senior prom and had baby’s breath in my hair.” Times have changed.

Millennials today, who seem to have been born with a laptop in their hands, order their prom dresses online. In fact, they order several to try on before deciding which one to keep. Pictures are often posted on social media so friends can weigh in on their favorite. Mark Zuckerberg, not that far from attending his own high school prom, created special Facebook pages where attendees can post their dress and “claim it” so other prom goers know “this one is taken.”

Marci has been active in her daughter’s choice of dresses, even nixing one she thought had a questionable neckline.

“There are so many choices; I’d like to get one we both agree on,” Allegra said. “And because Mom’s paying, I look for deals and try to find options that aren’t too expensive.”

Allegra is co-captain of the Seaholm High School women’s golf team that won the Division 2 State Tournament three years in a row (2013-2015). “I’ve been playing golf since I was 3,” she said. Perhaps having a father who’s a PGA professional and the men’s golf team coach at Eastern Michigan University has something to do with that. But this vivacious senior also had a lead in the spring musical, Big Fish.

After graduation, she will study international business and French at the University of Dayton, where she will also play Division 1 golf.

Asked if there was anything her mom shared about her own prom (back in the day), she said, “I like the part about being picked up in a car. It seems more personal.”

Students’ transportation today is a party bus they board with a gang of friends. They still have (wrist) corsages and try to coordinate outfits with their dates (colored vests and bow ties for the tux are in again), but the personal part now involves the uniqueness of the invitation to prom.

“Everyone tries to outdo themselves with a special surprise, a little like the engagement proposals we see on the news and social media,” Marci explains.

According to Allegra, couples usually “just know” they’re going together to the prom. Either the boy or girl does something special to ask their date. It may be a scavenger hunt, balloon messages or a handmade card, but it usually involves a clever message on decorated poster board with a personal meaning.

For example, a member of the swim team might receive: “Of all the fish in the sea, I’m glad you swam to me. Whale you go to prom with me?”

What about those endless prom parties? “We’ll all meet at Quarton Lake for photos an hour before leaving for prom. It’s more of a pre-party for the parents,” Allegra admits.

According to Marci, “After-parties are a brief stay at one parent’s house. They go straight from prom to the party. No stops and no more all-nighters. They change into casual clothes and spend about enough time for pizza and a Netflix movie, then everyone’s exhausted and goes home with their parents.”

Some parents say it’s just another dance, the third one of the year after homecoming and Sadie Hawkins. But for Marci and Allegra, prom prep became an important shared moment. Maybe not a rite of passage, but certainly a time for a daughter to officially say goodbye before going off on her own.

Caroline and Stacey Tuohy — Marian High School

Keep It Classy

Photography by Jerry Zolynsky

Anne Brace and her daughter Megan, a senior at Plymouth High School, looked at several dresses online before going to a nearby boutique, Bella Mia, (prombella.com) a haven of dresses and accessories for prom goers.

They quickly found a dress they both liked, a long gown with the appearance of two-pieces but connected at the midriff with “meshy stuff so it doesn’t move around,” Megan says. They also looked at accessories and Anne surprised Megan with a crystal bracelet to go with her dress.

“I went to prom in a hoop skirt, which was quite billowy,” Anne snickered. “It was a long, pale pink gown with a sweetheart neckline.”

Megan’s prom is a larger affair than at most schools. She attends Plymouth-Canton Educational Park (P-CEP or “The Park”), a unified high school campus on 350 acres for secondary students from Plymouth, Canton and Salem. Approximately 2,000 P-CEP seniors will be attending the prom held at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. The prom ticket does not include dinner, so Megan and her friends will probably go to dinner after the prom and then go to an after-party at one of the parents’ houses. Details aren’t pinned down yet because prom does not occur until June, after graduation.

Megan’s boyfriend is a junior from Salem High and they can’t figure out who asks whom for the date. “We met in math class and have been together for about two years,” she says. “We know we’re going together to prom; the question is should he ask me because he’s the boy or should I ask him because I’m the senior?”

Megan has been active in sports at Plymouth. She was on the women’s golf team that won the Division 1 state championship her sophomore year and was part of the girl’s hockey team that won the Division 2 state championship that same year. Since then, Megan has been captain of the girl’s hockey team, comprised of members from all three schools.

“Most of the sports have a separate team for each building, but there’s only one girl’s hockey team so I love getting to meet so many friends,” she says. “Even though we’re from different buildings, we’ve become like family.”

Megan is “super excited” about spending one last evening with her friends. “It’s one last big hurrah before we all go off in different directions.”

Mom’s advice is to have a good time, but be safe, don’t get too crazy.

“My mom and I are super close and enjoyed doing this together,” Megan says. “I appreciate our relationship and know I can call on her anytime if needed.”

Anne feels the prom is a rite of passage that signals the end of high school. She’s excited to watch Megan reach this point and go off on her own to Michigan State, where she’ll study speech pathology. But she is torn because she will miss her deeply.

“That’s why this is a significant moment for us,” Anne says. “It’s one of the last things we’ll do together for a while. No U-turns allowed after this point.”

So we’ve learned that prom may be different from traditional versions that preceded it, but the bond between mothers and daughters experiencing prom prep today is as strong as it ever was. 

Megan and Anne Brace — Plymouth High School

The Last Big Hurrah

Photography by Brandon Schwartz

Anne Brace and her daughter Megan, a senior at Plymouth High School, looked at several dresses online before going to a nearby boutique, Bella Mia, (prombella.com) a haven of dresses and accessories for prom goers.

They quickly found a dress they both liked, a long gown with the appearance of two-pieces but connected at the midriff with “meshy stuff so it doesn’t move around,” Megan says. They also looked at accessories and Anne surprised Megan with a crystal bracelet to go with her dress.

“I went to prom in a hoop skirt, which was quite billowy,” Anne snickered. “It was a long, pale pink gown with a sweetheart neckline.”

Megan’s prom is a larger affair than at most schools. She attends Plymouth-Canton Educational Park (P-CEP or “The Park”), a unified high school campus on 350 acres for secondary students from Plymouth, Canton and Salem. Approximately 2,000 P-CEP seniors will be attending the prom held at the Suburban Collection Showplace in Novi. The prom ticket does not include dinner, so Megan and her friends will probably go to dinner after the prom and then go to an after-party at one of the parents’ houses. Details aren’t pinned down yet because prom does not occur until June, after graduation.

Megan’s boyfriend is a junior from Salem High and they can’t figure out who asks whom for the date. “We met in math class and have been together for about two years,” she says. “We know we’re going together to prom; the question is should he ask me because he’s the boy or should I ask him because I’m the senior?”

Megan has been active in sports at Plymouth. She was on the women’s golf team that won the Division 1 state championship her sophomore year and was part of the girl’s hockey team that won the Division 2 state championship that same year. Since then, Megan has been captain of the girl’s hockey team, comprised of members from all three schools.

“Most of the sports have a separate team for each building, but there’s only one girl’s hockey team so I love getting to meet so many friends,” she says. “Even though we’re from different buildings, we’ve become like family.”

Megan is “super excited” about spending one last evening with her friends. “It’s one last big hurrah before we all go off in different directions.”

Mom’s advice is to have a good time, but be safe, don’t get too crazy.

“My mom and I are super close and enjoyed doing this together,” Megan says. “I appreciate our relationship and know I can call on her anytime if needed.”

Anne feels the prom is a rite of passage that signals the end of high school. She’s excited to watch Megan reach this point and go off on her own to Michigan State, where she’ll study speech pathology. But she is torn because she will miss her deeply.

“That’s why this is a significant moment for us,” Anne says. “It’s one of the last things we’ll do together for a while. No U-turns allowed after this point.”

So we’ve learned that prom may be different from traditional versions that preceded it, but the bond between mothers and daughters experiencing prom prep today is as strong as it ever was. NS

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