Prom was the biggest event of the year. At least it was for me. Starting in the eighth grade, my goal was to go to prom, and as an eighth grader you could go . . . if you got picked to be a server. It was a privilege to get chosen for this duty. We not only got to dress up in fancy clothes, but most importantly, we got to be a part of something grown up and beyond. Sure we spent the night serving punch, assisting in the kitchen, and making sure everything went smoothly, but we also saw the dresses, the suits and ties, the moments, and the magic. I think I even got to dance one dance.
Of course having prom meant that we had to get our dresses and suits and ties from somewhere. Sometimes we would nab a prom dress on a basketball trip. My freshman year we were in Anchorage at the Dimond Center Mall and I picked up my dress, gloves, and shoes. It was months before prom but when one lives in a place where they are hours away from a mall, one had to plan ahead. Other times we would order from a catalog or a mom would volunteer to take some of us girls to Fairbanks to go prom dress shopping. In a very focused trip, we would shop at every store until we finally landed on the dress, shoes, gloves, jewelry and nylons for our upcoming fairytale night.
In Tok, prom wasn’t just for the seniors. If it was, there wouldn’t be a prom. The junior class put on the prom for the senior class and all high school grades were allowed to attend. Each year, the junior class picked a theme, and then went right to work on making it the best prom possible. After all, the class coming behind them was responsible for their senior prom next year. It was best not to shirk on prom night duties.
Themes ranged from “Moonlight and Roses”, “Under the Sea”, “A Night to Remember”, and “Stairway to Heaven”. The year our class planned prom was the year Robin Hood took the theaters by storm and “Everything I do, I do it for You” was born. I was class president that year and took it upon myself to order all of the prom paraphernalia from the thick prom catalog. We spent, or rather I spent, several thousand dollars, and we all worked hours after school and into the night (including many teachers) to pull off a medieval prom, castles and all. Russ and Jan Persson, dance chaperones, rented costumes to wear adding even more enchantment to our evening. It was a charmed evening. It was also the last year I would attend prom at Tok School. My girlfriends graciously snubbed dates to attend with me. I think, looking back, I made them. I could be quite persuasive, and I am regretful if I robbed any of them a chance at their dream date.
We transformed our high school gymnasium into a magical, mysterious, and miraculous place. Entering through those gym doors transported us to a new destination that was way beyond our small town and barren landscape of an Alaskan May. Gazing around at the yards of gossamer, tulle, crepe papered ceiling, disco balls, balloons, decorated tables, champagne glasses, and the dazzling dance floor it truly was like we had escaped to a world where happiness never ended. It was how we did prom every year.
Later, after my move out of Alaska, I attended my senior prom in New Hampshire. I was taken aback, and shocked, at how my new school did prom. What do you mean you don’t decorate your gym for prom? We instead had tickets to a local, fancy resort, where we had catered dinner and danced in an elegant hotel ballroom. It was nice, don’t get me wrong. In fact, it was quite swanky, glamorous, and posh. But it wasn’t the magic I had come to not only look forward to, but to expect.
I’m not sure what the senior prom theme was the year I left Alaska. I could dig out an old yearbook and look. But it might just leave me feeling a little forlorn. After I returned to Alaska in 1994, for my best friend Elizabeth’s graduation, my former classmates informed me, with what I hope today was humor, that I spent so much on prom our junior year they were in debt up to their eyeballs. Now, in my defense, I had no clue I was moving at the time I placed the order. I was just making sure we put on a good prom!
Anyway, my class, the class of 1993, had to work concessions all year to pay back the school. Then, when it came time for their senior class trip at the end of the year, because of me, all the money they had earned went to pay off prom debt I had acquired for them. They ended up with an end-of-the-year class trip to Broken Bridge (a place right outside of Tok) to go fishing for the day. Fishing. Other classes went to at least Fairbanks…and one even went to Hawaii. That is a sad legacy I left for my class. I am so sorry. So, I hope the junior class, made magic for them, like we did for our seniors.
Here’s to one very magical night of the year . . . Here’s to Growing up Alaska.