I don’t remember why I joined the prom committee. Maybe it was ironic. Possibly I was just trying to star in my own private episode of Daria. It seems so out of character for me that there must have been a good reason at the time, but my memory of the experience begins with me already seated around a circular table in a school administrator’s office, poring over prom catalogues with the rest of the committee members, who surprised me by running the gamut from D&D nerds (me) to the drama geeks (also me), to cool girls and the student council kids who were on every school committee, ever.
There were about 12 of us, which spread the distribution of responsibility pretty thin. The school arranged the venue, date and major vendors in advance, so the prom committee was pretty much just there to pick out the colors, menu and souvenirs and come up with five potential themes for the rest of the class to vote on. Secretly, I suspect the only reason prom committees exist is that school administrators don’t want to have to look at the mountain of prom catalogues every year.
Prom catalogues are fat, glossy magazines the size of phonebooks that stock every kitsch tchotchke that could possibly be customized with curly script and a clip-art silhouette of a prom couple dancing. Companies sent these things by the truckload, and I got it into my head that I had to read every single one from cover to cover or I would miss the one spectacular treasure that would save prom and make us all happy forever.
With every clique represented at the committee table, I came expecting to have to fight to get all the clearly superior things my friends and I liked, but somehow everyone on the committee agreed on every single decision. It started with our first group decision: prom colors.
The room was tight with the tension of a dozen 17-year-olds gearing up for a fight about something relatively insignificant, when suddenly one of the cool girls broke the silence and said, “How about purple, black and silver?”
I paused; almost convinced I hadn’t heard her correctly. Those were the colors I wanted, and I thought I was going to have to arm wrestle a student council guy to get them. I couldn’t tell if I was relieved or disappointed, but I looked around the table and saw the same surprised relief/disappointment on all the other faces, even the boys’.
From that moment every decision was magically made in perfect, unanimous agreement. Prom committee turned into one of those movie gangs where every “type” is represented and yet somehow in harmony. We were the Spice Girls of prom, because as we flipped through the catalogues and the menus from the pre-selected vendors, it became pretty clear that there was one right choice for everything, and all other options were crap.
If you ever wonder why your prom committee picked the chicken cordon bleu or the “A Night to Remember” picture frame, it’s because there are genuinely no better options available.
“Dinner option 1: Chicken cordon bleu. Dinner option 2: ‘Flavors of the world’ chicken feet buffet. Dinner option 3: Plate of raw local chicken fat with artisanal glass shards.”
The only place we had a bit of flexibility was with the prom theme, by far our biggest responsibility. We pitched ideas back and forth, usually Top 40 song titles like “Wonderful Tonight,” “My Heart Will Go On,” “Make Em Say Uhh.”
And then, eureka! Someone found a science class beaker among the souvenir barware, and suggested “A Night of Chemistry.” I found a prom logo with people ballroom dancing in a field of molecules. An enterprising drama geek called the hotel and found out we could get green soda with our beverage selection. The DJ would play “She Blinded Me With Science” every hour. We were sold.
We printed the ballots with “A Night of Chemistry” two points larger than all the other themes. We distributed them to the homerooms and told everyone who would listen that they should vote for “A Night of Chemistry” and the beakers full of green soda. At lunch we retrieved the boxes and waited, quivering with giddy anticipation, to hear the theme of Prom 1998:
“My Heart Will Go On,” by a fucking landslide.