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On proms, past and present

Students reflect on 'Redemption Prom' and dances of days past

<h5>2024 Sophomore Formal at Prospect House</h5>
<h6>Sameer A. Khan / Fotobuddy</h6>
2024 Sophomore Formal at Prospect House
Sameer A. Khan / Fotobuddy

Covered in a wash of green light, the doors of Prospect House opened to reveal a mix of the old and new. The sights and sounds of a high school dance bumped up against the walls of the mansion as contemporary music clashed with nineteenth-century architecture. Welcome to Redemption Prom. 

Also called the 2024 Sophomore Formal, Redemption Prom represented a full-circle moment after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many members of the Class of 2024 missed their senior prom due to restrictions on gathering and the dance aimed to make up for this collective loss. The event, which occurred on March 25 and was organized by the 2024 Class Government, was set to take place on Dec. 3 but was rescheduled for the spring semester following changes in University COVID-19 protocols. 

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The connection between the event and students’ high school experiences encouraged comparisons between the proms students expected and the dance they ultimately attended. Through interviews with The Daily Princetonian, members of the Class of 2024 reflected on past dances and shared their thoughts on Redemption Prom.

For some students, Redemption Prom was a profoundly new type of experience. 

Ariana Lujan ’24, a sociology major from Salinas, Calif., said her parents didn’t let her go to any dances at her public high school. She did, however, attend two events in middle school, which she described as typical dances that featured a mix of popular music and Spanish songs. In addition to her eighth grade promotion dance, she was able to convince her parents to let her go to a Valentine’s Day event. 

“I went to a Valentine’s dance one time because it fell on my birthday. So, that was the only reason I was allowed to go,” she noted. 

Redemption Prom was the first event that Lujan went to that resembled a high school dance. She said her mother encouraged her to go. 

“I was basically waiting until the end of my senior year to do anything outside of going to class,” she said. “So I think she felt kind of bad afterward because she knew that she was the reason that I didn't go to anything before.”

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Other students had gone to multiple high school dances. 

Parker Connelly ’24 is an Electrical and Computer Engineering concentrator from Hamden, Conn. He attended what he said was a typical prep school in New England, which hosted around three dances a year. 

“You’d show up to the upper student lounge and they’d have all the couches and chairs put away and there’d be absurdly loud music and then it takes you like ten minutes to adjust to it. And there’s mediocre food and you just kind of show up. Me and my friends would always just hang out,” he said. “It was usually pretty fun. And I usually looked forward to going just because I liked dressing up nice for one night out of the term.”

One special event that Connelly’s school organized was the Yule Ball, named after the fictional event from the Harry Potter books. 

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“It’s tangentially Harry Potter-related, but I think they just did it one year and it stuck maybe like a decade or so ago,” he explained. 

Like many other members of the Class of 2024, Connelly’s senior prom was canceled due to COVID-19. He did, however, attend junior prom the year prior, which he described as an upscale event with formal dinner service. 

“A lot of the people who went to my high school were from a town that was far away, but really, really rich. So there were a lot of rich kids at my high school,” he said. “Whereas some of the people who are located closer to the school, including myself, we’re not like that. So it was at this really bougie, outside area that looks on the Long Island Sound.”

Politics concentrator and ‘Prince’ senior copy editor Cy Orentlicher ’24 said he went to almost every dance at his high school. Having taken a gap year, Orentlicher attended his senior prom before the pandemic. 

A native of Indianapolis, Ind., he said that the most important thing about prom at his high school was the location. Other aspects don’t stand out in his memory as particularly impressive.

“My senior year, they had it on top of the tallest building in Indianapolis [...] You can see for miles,” he said. “Most of the venues were nothing to write home about. They were large spaces, wherever we could find them. I guess I was lucky that my senior one was such a standout venue.”

Lujan and Connelly both attended Redemption Prom. Though their previous experiences with dances differed greatly, they shared similar views on this year’s event. Both students said they were glad to have gone to the dance. Lujan attended the event with a friend from the Scholars Institute Fellows Program along with her roommates. She said she didn’t stay for long but enjoyed the visual aspects of the dance.

“I thought it was cool because most of the people that went with the whole prom theme were dressed super cool,” she said. “I just stayed to take pictures and that was pretty much it.”

Similarly, Connelly said he enjoyed the setup of the venue and the refreshments provided at the event, noting that it was superior to previous events he went attended. 

“It was different from the other ones I have been to in high school. For those, if you wanted to take a break from the music, you'd have to step outside every 30 minutes to an hour to go somewhere nice and quiet and cool down because it got really hot in there. But this one had the food and the silent area with its own half of the house,” he noted. “It turned out really great. The food was good. It was fun to walk around Prospect House and take pictures.”

Lujan also noted that her experience at Redemption Prom differed greatly from the dances she attended before. She said her high school prom would’ve been more familiar. 

“I guess the vibe was really different just because I hardly knew anyone at Redemption Prom,” she said. “I guess if I would have gone to prom at high school, it'd be people you knew for like four years. So I just felt like I was just kind of there. I feel like, at dances, you go to hang out with people, talk to people, but I didn't really do that.”

Connelly, however, said he tried not to compare his high school experience with the event.  

“I didn’t really think of it as ‘Oh, what would I have done at senior prom? Let me do that now.’ That wasn’t really what I was shooting for,” he explained. 

Unlike his classmates, Orentlicher decided not to go to Sophomore Formal for a variety of reasons. He said that his experience at the Orange and Black Ball in the fall dissuaded him from attending the event. 

“I went into the Orange and Black Ball and stayed for all of five minutes, realized I wasn’t having fun without knowing if any of my people were there, [and] realized that with how big the crowd was, I wasn’t really going to be able to find my people, and left,” he said. 

He also said that the fact that the event was framed as a ‘redemption’ for the cancellation of senior prom also discouraged him from going. 

“What it told me was that it was going to be more of the same stuff I didn’t like about my high school prom. So, for me, that was a reason to not go,” Orentlicher explained.

For other students, however, the name of the event encouraged them to attend. Lujan said she appreciated that the organizers of the event noted the challenges created by the pandemic during her senior year. 

“I think it was a good idea because I don’t think I would have gone to just the formal if it wasn't titled ‘Redemption Prom,’” she said. “I think it was a good effort to try to give us something, just acknowledging the pandemic.”

Connelly said she felt similarly, noting that the event’s name took some pressure off of him. 

“I thought it was a fun idea. Without getting us too sour over it, you know? It was ironic that it got canceled earlier in the term. So I think that kind of made it funnier to me. Like maybe take it a little less seriously, which is maybe for the better,” Connelly said. 

One point all three students could agree on what that they felt grateful to spend the evening with friends.

“The important thing is that you and your friends are all having a good time,” Orentlicher said.

Offering his final thoughts on the event, Connelly said he was happy he could spend time with his friends while he continued to adjust to college life. 

“I’m really grateful that this was available to us and that it was free. I’m still getting into having fun on weekend nights with my friends. It definitely wasn’t something we did last spring and wasn’t something that I was able to do last fall,” he said. “It was absolutely perfect for me. It was probably like the best night I've had this whole year.”

Bert Lee is a Senior Writer for The Prospect who often covers music and artist profiles. He can be reached at alberthl@princeton.edu.

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