Not your father’s “Footloose”

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Andy Sauer

 Two years ago, I was the shuttle driver for a trio of Suffield High School sophomores, one of whom had managed to get access to an Instagram message group where Suffield juniors and seniors modeled their purchased prom gowns. Amid animated commentary, the girls howled in anticipation for their prom season only a year away.

Proms are important events. My childhood friend Jordan called the prom the two-minute warning of the high school experience. It was, he insisted, the penultimate chapter of our childhood, a social experience that would mark our transition into adulthood. Today, no surprise, this man is a teacher, coach and prom chaperone.

The pandemic forced the cancellation of last year’s prom. Suffield typically holds combined junior-senior proms, so while the Class of 2020 lost some graduation traditions, at least they were able to have the memories and photos of the prom held a year earlier. The Class of 2021, on the other hand, were at risk of losing this last chance for a prom if the pandemic didn’t relent. Though weakened, the pandemic has not relented. Time for Plan B.

The plan for prom 2021 is to hold it outdoors, rain or shine, under a tent on the high school turf field. Because Connecticut, as of today, caps outdoor gatherings at 200, there will be no “plus one” for prom-goers. Details are still sketchy, but there are plans to have food trucks, a DJ, games and strict rules on arrival and departures. Rumors are rife among the students that there will be socially distant dancing and that because of the turf field, high-heel shoes might not be allowed.

Most important, school officials say plans are subject to change at any time.

There is no playbook on how a community, local or global, should emerge from a pandemic. The consensus from leaders, doctors and scientists suggest weighing the risks with the benefits and being ready to improvise. For the Class of 2021, at least the members I’ve spoken to, the benefit and necessity of a senior prom radically outweigh all the risks. For the people whose job it is to both protect and provide for those students, the goal is to find the happy and safest medium.

Proms are planned around themes that usually reflect the sentiments of the day. Perhaps when selecting this year’s theme, planners should consider the immortal words of The Rolling Stones:

“You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes,
well, you might find,
You get what you need.”

That is a theme for our times.

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