Prom perplexities

Susan Flanagan
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As proud as you are of your kids, you can’t help but wonder if elaborate grads leave others out in the cold

— illustration

I am not a frequenter of flower shops. I received enough flowers for a lifetime during my two-year stay in Japan. Nonetheless, I found myself walking into a downtown florist’s one day in March. I’m hardly in the door when I hear a familiar voice.

“Hi Mom.”

It’s No. 2.

I do a double take. A flower shop is an unusual place to run into your 17-year-old son.

He is with a swarm of friends picking out corsages and boutonnieres for their senior prom. Words like corsage, boutonniere and cummerbund didn’t even form part of his vocabulary a week previous.

I am so proud of him for his independence and engaging spirit. Soon, the carefree days of high school will be over and he’ll be into the carefree days of university.

Although I feel completing high school is a wonderful achievement, I have mixed feelings about proms. I disagree with the pressure put on students to find a date and on cash-strapped families to come up with money they don’t have.

The same week as the flower shop meeting I am in the produce section of a local supermarket.

“Sure, it’s going to cost me over $1,000 for her prom,” said a mother who went on to describe her daughter’s shopping trip to Montreal. I assume this was to pick up the dress and shoes. Then there’s the limo, tanning sessions (warning, may cause cancer), boutonniere and the $105 dinner ticket which includes an all-night Safe Grad at the school.

The Safe Grad is planned, decorated and staffed by volunteer parents and school officials who work for days and all one night till 6 a.m. to give the students an opportunity to celebrate in an alcohol- and drug-free environment.

As they approach the front entranceway of the high school, the students are met by protective tenting, red carpet, corridors lined with curtains and gold stars featuring their own smiling grad photos.

The cafeteria is more elaborate than most wedding receptions I’ve attended. The white satin-swathed chairs surround white and black draped tables with centrepieces. A gurgling chocolate fountain invites students to dip strawberries and pretzels. The smell of chicken wings permeates the air. Fancy glasses of alcohol-free punch seem endless. It is all beautiful — there’s no question.

I hope the students appreciate what their parents and teaching staff have done for them. I hope those parents and staff know how much I appreciate what they’ve done.

There’s a fortune teller room, a movie room, an exercise room and even a Monte Carlo room. Half the gym has bouncy castles and the other half a DJ and dancing. There are thousands of dollars of prizes. Gift certificates for the spa, clothing stores, electronics and restaurants. Fancy-schmancy.

But you know what? Some students don’t get to see this. Some students stay at home trying to pretend that it’s just another Friday night.

And it’s not only the students who can’t afford the tux and ticket. The pressure to attend the prom with a date affects both well-off and not-so-well-off students alike.

This is tough on them and tough on their parents who hate to see them not partaking in the festivities. It’s not necessarily that they don’t have a date. It’s just that not every teenager is at ease attending a dinner and dance with someone on their arm. I know they could skip the dinner and dance and just show up at the school for the Safe Grad, but not very many would choose to do that. And they are welcome to attend the dinner with a group of buddies but not all are comfortable doing that.

Now here I go digging myself a deeper hole as I continue with my contradictory ramblings. I love a man in a tux — don’t get me wrong. But I offered both Nos. 1 and 2 $100 cash if they did not wear a tux to their grads. They both declined the offer.

No. 2’s tux rental cost over $160, and he didn’t even wear the shoes. Minutes before he left to go to his date’s house, he was cleaning dusty spots off his black sneakers.

His date looked gorgeous in her over-one-shoulder burgundy gown and swooped up hair. Off they went to a wine and cheese for a few hours before the meet and greet with parents at the Delta.

“Does he like cheese?” asked my father-in-law, who loves cheese.

“Only on pizza and burgers,” I answered.

“Does he drink wine?”

“Nope,” I answered.

“Blimey,” said my father-in-law, with his British accent. “He’s in for a long afternoon.”

Although I didn’t see him between 1 and 6 p.m., I understand No. 2 was as busy as Prince William before his nuptials. He travelled around in a bus with fellow future graduates visiting the school for photos and the pizza place where he works. Once 6 p.m. came, the bus pulled in on New Gower releasing debutantes to parade through a mob of families seeking their crinoline-covered daughters and tuxedoed sons.

As a bellhop desperately pleaded with adults to move out of the way of the elevators to the meet-and-greet area near Salon 2, I craned my neck from the raised bar to catch a glimpse of No. 2’s freshly cropped hair. There he was, moving through the sea of teenagers — a smile as broad as Mick Jagger’s. He looked so handsome in his overpriced tux.

I am a hypocrite, I thought. Didn’t I resolve this last year when No. 1 graduated? I am proud to see him here with his peers, dressed to the nines. Yet in the back of my mind I can’t help but think this is probably a cruel night for many students and families.

But is it crueller than not making a sports team or not getting invited to a party? Life can be cruel. Is that the lesson here?

Perhaps I’m being too sensitive, perhaps too insensitive. Who knows? Maybe that’s what growing up is all about, accepting the tough spots that greet us on the road.

We rounded up No. 2’s date, snapped a few pics and came home to clean the kitchen while they sat down to dinner.

At 9 p.m. I headed back to dance with my second born. Since a friend kindly pointed out to my husband that since it was the mother who danced with her son, Dad didn’t need to be there for that portion of the festivities, I found myself alone on Springdale Street sprinting up to the hotel in my heels.

Although the program says 9 p.m., I knew from last year that it would be later. I also knew what happens before the first dances.

That’s when two students get up and announce runners up and winners in dozens of categories like: Cutest Couple, Best Hair, Best Smile.

Of course, we all clap and hoot when we recognize names. But you can’t help but notice that some names never get read out at all.

All that is forgotten when the time comes to waltz with my son. He’s tall and broad and all grown up. I am honoured to be his mother. We finish the dance and I vacate the premises, leaving him to enjoy the rest of his evening. I figure I won’t see him till morning, and I am right.

But around midnight, I hear him in the kitchen pouring up his third bowl of cereal before he goes off to conquer the world.


Susan Flanagan is a mother of five who realizes that the prom and Safe Grad are basically a big party to celebrate time spent together before the final hurrah of exams in June. The real grad takes place in the fall in the school gym. She awaits the backlash at


Terry Fox feedback

Peggy writes: “This is a wonderful article. I saw the statue last week and was amazed by the awesome job done by Luben Boykov, especially the eyes. What a well-deserved memorial to Terry Fox.

No, he will “never die.” Thank you, Terry Fox and Betty Fox and all his family members who are carrying on the work of the foundation.”

Organizations: Delta

Geographic location: Japan, Montreal, Monte Carlo Springdale Street

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Recent comments

  • Melissa
    May 01, 2012 - 11:22

    Very true!! I graduated a couple of years ago but I didn't go to the actual prom because of the price of it. There was no way my family could afford to go and I wanted them to be with me that day. So I got a second hand dress and did the whole limo and pictures thing with my friends and went to the meet and greet but then left and spent time with my family until about midnight when I went to the safegrad, thankfully that was free for us and not a part of the price. And safe grad is an amazing thing, they put so much work into it and it really is appreciated.

  • Helen
    May 01, 2012 - 10:42

    Thank you for the wonderful comment,Susan,You are right,proms can be good and bad.I liked your take on those grads who cannot afford a prom dress/tux and all the accessories that go with that and that they have to have a date to go with.Not everyone is as fortunate as others in this province to do this gala in style.I do appreciate your take on proms and thank you!