Prom as a Rite of Passage

Cody Guilday English 105 Prof. Wheat 10/22/12 The Senior Prom: A Rite of Passage The United States is known throughout the world to be a place in which there are many cultures and customs mixing and colliding. One thing that each culture has in abundance is rites of passage, whether it is Births, Bat Mitzvahs, Quinces, or graduation. Each right of passage is an event that signifies a transition in a person’s life. Senior Prom is a rite of passage for young men and women that is indicative of their transition from teenagers to young adults.
It is meant to be a celebration of the high school experience; the last hurrah. A gathering of friends who have spent four years of their adolescence together, figuring out who they are as persons. The reason Prom has become such a rite of passage as opposed to just another dance, comes from the notion that it is an event that cannot be missed. When referring to the high school experience, prom and graduation are the two events that are most commonly brought up. They are universal to all graduated students, yet unique to each individual.
The identity of the individual as being a part of their graduating class is why the prom is so important. Although prom is intended to be an all-inclusive experience, the event has become factionalized due to materialism, social status, and willingness to participate in consumption of alcohol. The fact that prom has become commercialized is causing some to be excluded from certain aspects of the prom and sometimes from the entire prom event. The prom event is supposed to include everyone in the graduating class.

But the increased prices and concentration on the material aspect is leaving out those who are unable to afford it. In Ann Anderson’s High School Prom: Marketing, Morals, and the American Teen, she points to prom magazines and other advertisers like Seventeen as the reason for commercialism in proms (119). She also states that the average amount spent for prom per family in America in 2010 was about 1000 dollars (115). According to an article from the Huffington Post, the prom industry is valued at four billion dollars. Additionally, the article claimed that the average amount spent on prom this ear in the northeast region was just shy of two thousand dollars (Krupnick). Prices like these are far out of the reach of many families, which leaves them with only a few options. Some parents decide that the event is so important that they will spend beyond their means for the sake of their children’s prom. Others have to take this price tag into consideration. In this case, the students are often left out of things like limo rides, pictures, and after parties. Although they are still part of the prom itself, they are left out of much of what is important to the “prom experience”.
Being left out of these aspects can have an impairing affect on the individual’s sense of identity. It is not just the fact that they are left out the limo ride or the after party. When asked about the event, or when it is talked about after, they are unable to partake in much of the conversation. This is also true for those who do not partake in the prom at all because of the price. Although this is less common, many consider the price of proms to be too steep. Missing the prom is considered a huge deal socially and could be detrimental to the identity of the individual as the community sees it.
Over the years, the focus of prom has shifted from the elegant, romantic event it once was to a concentration on teenage alcohol consumption, drug use, and sex. In Ann Anderson’s book High School Prom: Marketing, Morals, and the American Teen, Ann gives a detailed account of the history of the prom event. She claims that prom was originally created to be “the democratic debutante ball”, referring to an elegant event, which is accessible to all regardless of economic status (Anderson 7). Although originally this may have been the case, it is clear that it is no longer the case today.
For starters, as seen before, prom is no longer accessible to all. Although the event itself is still very elegant, the focus has been shifted. It has become a social competition. Many prom-goers worry more about the after party than the event. They see the prom as a stepping stone to the after party, where they are able to drink, do drugs, and have sex without being seen by the prying eyes of parents. This further divides the senior group. On one hand there are those who want to drink, do drugs, and have sex.
On the other hand, there are people who would like to be included in the after party in order to get the entire prom experience, but are excluded because they do not drink. For these people who are excluded, the identity of being part of a larger, inclusive community is often ruined. Additionally, it adds to the individual identity as a “partier” or “non-partier” often at the expense of those who choose not to drink or do drugs. According to The National Highway Safety Administration, 53% of students reported to have had more than 4 drinks (“Prom Night Statistics”).
That splits a given senior class almost directly down the middle. But the divide is not just based on alcohol. Because the whole senior class cannot attend the same after party, it becomes a matter of social status. This is perhaps the most divisive aspect of the prom and the most destabilizing to the identity of certain individuals. It boils down to two types of people; those who are invited, and those who are not. The community sees those who are not invited as less important and the individuals see themselves in a similar way because of this.
Popularity is a huge part of one’s identity, especially in high school. Being that prom is one of the biggest nights of high school, being invited to pre-pictures or the after party is the ultimate show of popularity. In contrast to this, not being invited could seriously affect the identity of an individual in a negative way. Some argue that the prom event itself is still one that is inclusive for all, regardless of social or economical status. Although the event is advertised and intended to be this way, the fact is, societal pressures do not allow it.
People may argue that there is a cheap way to go to prom without limos, expensive tuxedos or dresses, and no after party. It is plausible to do this but, because of social perception of prom, many feel that they would be marginalized if they did not have all of these aspects. Movies and television portrays the prom event as one in which it is necessary to be lavish. For people who do not have the means to do this, or do not wish to partake in after parties, the prom event becomes undesirable.
The rite of passage of Senior Prom is highly important to all high school students. It is one that is looked forward to long before senior year and it is one that is talked about long after graduation. Although it is meant to be an event for the entire Senior Class, many are left out of the experience because a lack of social or economic status. Not being a part of this event, or certain aspects of this event, causes to the individual to lose the identity of being a part of something greater.
It is not just being a part of a senior class that is important to this rite of passage, but it is being a part of the social and educational community that is unique to their specific senior class. This feeling of being a part of a unique community is built up over the years and culminates at the senior prom. Exclusion from any part of this event causes individual to lose their sense of identity as a part of this community. Works Cited Anderson, Ann. High School Prom: Marketing, Morals, and the American Teen. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 2012. Print. Krupnick, Ellie. Prom Dresses, Prom Hairstyles, Prom Makeup: How Much Does Prom 2012 Cost? ” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost. com, 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. “Prom Night Statistics. ” Statistic Brain. N. p. , n. d. Web. 22 Oct. 2012. <http://www. statisticbrain. com/prom-night-statistics/>. Works Consulted Best, Amy L. Prom Night: Youth, Schools, and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print. Fleischer, Myra C. “Expensive Proms Increase Pressure on Teens to Have Sex. “Washington Times Communities. The Washington Times, 25 May 2012. Web. 22 Oct. 2012.

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