High school prom is something most people remember in some fashion or another, but during the pandemic many students have had to forego the quintessential coming-of-age experience.
But last Saturday a small group of Oak Harbor High School seniors and their families found a way to hold a mini-prom that none of them are likely to forget.
There was a balloon arch, table decorations, prom dresses, a boutonniere and the obligatory parental photos — just like “normal prom.”
Unlike a normal prom, it was held in a backyard and the girls changed into their dresses in a camping tent. There were far fewer people. One young gentleman even brought a bedazzled, 17th-century-style plague mask.
The theme was “A Night of a Thousand Lights” and was a bright spot to what has been a less-than-stellar year for the graduating class.
Linda Svendsen led the charge to organize a makeshift prom for her daughter and her friends in the backyard.
“I just wanted them to have the memory,” Linda Svendsen said. “To get all dressed up, to be with your boyfriend or your partner or your friends, and dance.”
Her daughter has been doing distance learning since the pandemic began. Synnove Svendsen said she elected to stay home at first because her mother is at high risk for complications from COVID-19. She would have started doing hybrid classes this year after her mother got vaccinated, but it was too late to change her schedule.
“I don’t know anyone who thought it would last this long,” she said of the pandemic.
Still, her group of friends has been able to maintain their friendships. Most of her group of friends know each other through the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, and they have picked up a few more people along the way.
Mia Messersmith, wearing a cherry blossom pink gown, said prom was something she had always looked forward to when she was younger.
“I was so excited to have senior year, but then everything happened,” Messersmith said. “I was so disappointed and regretful over things I hadn’t done.”
She was excited when she found out her friends were trying to figure out a way to make the teenage milestone happen.
“I’m just really grateful to have something like this and it’s a really cool thing to be a part of,” she said.
Doing prom on a smaller scale also let the students have more control over what it would look like — the theme, the music, the movie.
“It’s very much more personal and that makes it more comfortable,” Messersmith said.
Kurt Daron Rivo agreed.
“Plus it’s less awkward,” he said.
The owners of Arbia Pizza donated a few pies, and a friend volunteered to do the girls’ makeup and hair for the big day. Parents were armed with cameras and cell phones to take their children’s photos as they watched the teens walk through a balloon arch.
Later, the teens had an outdoor dance floor and camping tents set up outside to spend the night.
Christine Nycum said she was happy the families could give the students a memory from their senior year that was not just sitting behind a computer.
“They’re all seniors, and they’ve missed out on every single milestone of their senior year,” she said. “We can make the yard pretty and stay distanced and all of that.”
Amity Ott and her husband, Ryan, said they were happy to see their son, Hunter Sheetz, do something that resembled a “normal” senior year.
“This group of friends needed it and needed a gathering before they head off,” Ott said.
Oak Harbor High School is planning to host a prom for students, Communications Officer Conor Laffey said. It will be in the school courtyard and be free to seniors. He said the school district would share more information with families soon.
Linda Svendsen said seeing her daughter in a prom dress with her friends was worth the effort.
“She was stunning to me,” she said.