Many in-person proms may be out this year, but some teens are determined to make online proms happen.
Widely considered a rite of passage for high school seniors, prom is a quintessential American tradition that, along with graduation, often symbolizes the end of one chapter in life and the beginning of a new one. But with the situation surrounding COVID-19 still evolving, prom and graduation cancellations are top of mind for many students.
And while some of the wide variety of events that have been put on hold due to coronavirus have been rescheduled for later dates, at this point, it seems like many in this year’s graduating class might simply have to forego some of their final high school experiences — at least in their traditional sense.
Sophia Kianni, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., tells TIME that although she and her friends had already started thinking about logistics like how to color-coordinate their outfits and rent a party bus, she has now pretty much resigned herself to the fact that her school’s prom will be canceled.
“It’s just so disappointing,” she says. “I know that all of my friends are extremely crushed and a lot of them are honestly in denial. They think that we’re somehow still going to figure out a way to make it happen.”
Unfortunately, that may not be case.
On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended suspending gatherings of 50 or more people for the next eight weeks. Two days later, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said that most of the state’s schools will likely remain closed for the rest of the school year, meaning all school-organized events will probably be canceled as well.
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And while schools in Los Angeles are only shut down for two weeks so far, students at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) are looking to technology for social distancing-friendly ways to celebrate the end of the school year with their friends
LACES seniors Zack Monterosso and Colin Wire and junior Wakie Haque tell TIME that they’re currently planning to host a virtual party on the video conferencing service Zoom, dubbed a “Zoom rager,” as a test run for virtual prom.
“We’re going to try out Zoom and get who we can from school on and maybe play some music over it and just have fun together,” Wire says.
However, Monterosso notes that, if they want to have more than 100 people at the party like they would at “regular prom,” they’ll have to spring for Zoom Pro.
“We’re all going to do a huge group FaceTime. I’ll put on music and we’ll go in the expensive dresses and tuxes that we already bought to get ready for prom,” she says. “I tweeted and was just like, ‘This is what’s going to happen. It’s going to be in my living room, you guys can send me a song for the playlist and that will be your ticket. You can invite whoever, I don’t really care because we’re all just going to be on a group FaceTime.'”
Ludovici notes that before schools started shutting down, her mom bought her a special dress that she now probably won’t get to wear to a real prom.
“My mom is actually very upset that I won’t be able to experience all of the things that my older sister did and that my younger sister will [in the future],” she says.
Kianni says that she and her friends also want to find a way to show off the dresses they bought in preparation for the big dance, as many of them are non-returnable.
“We are all very much still thinking that we’re going to get dressed up and take pictures in some form or another,” she explains. “The whole social gathering aspect of prom just isn’t going to happen anymore.”
Monterosso says that he thinks it’s important to find ways to celebrate these high school milestones to keep his classmates’ spirits up in the midst of everything going on throughout the world.
“Second semester of senior year is stereotypically not really a big time for learning and more a time to celebrate everything that we’ve done in high school,” he says. “Since everyone is quarantined and on their own right now, we still want to find ways to bring people together even if we can’t actually be together.”
Wire adds that, if they don’t end up returning to school, he thinks these virtual get-togethers could give the seniors a chance to properly say goodbye to one another.
“This last Friday when we all heard that we probably wouldn’t be returning on Monday, there was a weird feeling because we didn’t really know how serious it was,” he explains. “I didn’t go around and say goodbye to everyone because it just felt strange. It didn’t feel like it was the end of everything. So I think it’s really important to reconnect with these people that we spent the last four years with and enjoy what we can with them while all of this is going on.”
For his part, Haque says that although he has a full year of high school left, he’s sad that his friends aren’t getting the full second-semester-senior experience.
“Us juniors feel sad that it’s their last year. It’s second semester, it’s supposed to be the best part of high school,” he explains. “But sadly it’s just not going according to plan.”
However, Kianni explains that while she’s “devastated that our final memories of high school are being taken away from us,” she understands that this is the safest path forward and has even managed to find a silver lining in the situation.
“I’ve been reading a lot about how canceling all of these events is a good thing in some ways because we’re really limiting conspicuous consumerism and pollution,” she says. “I know that after homecoming I’ve seen every single trash can overflowing and just so much waste, so this way there isn’t going to be another huge event that’s really detrimental to the environment.”
As for graduation, the other major end-of-year event for high school seniors, Wire says that even though he’s not sure it will happen, he’s not worried.
“It would be sad to not be able to see everyone walk the stage and get everything they deserve,” he says. “But I mean, we can probably find a way around that too. We’re trying to improvise with this.”
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