Dr. Jamie Jenkins: Proms with a Purpose

It has been called “the night of their lives.” Prom night. This time of the year it seems that everyone is going to the prom. Hummer stretch limos, tuxedos, and expensive (can you believe some cost $1,000 or more) party dresses are seen everywhere. Teenaged couples are dining at the fanciest restaurants and dancing at places like the Fox Theater and other lavish ballrooms.

I remember when (that’s how old folks like me talk) it was the Junior-Senior Prom. This meant that the students who would graduate next year would plan the event for the current year’s high school graduates. Then someone came up with the idea that junior high/middle school students should also have a prom.

A new trend has recently come to my attention--proms for kindergarten students. That’s right, complete with party dresses, tuxedos, professional photographers, and a DJ. For 5 year-olds. If this surprises you, you are not alone. One parent said it was to “help them prepare for the future.” Huh?

I am in favor of celebrating significant moments in life. “Graduating” from kindergarten and moving on to first grade is an important occasion. But it seems like there should be a more age-appropriate way for parents and children to acknowledge this passage.

There are folks who have a different opinion on this subject and that’s alright. It just seems a bit odd to me that kids just beginning their education will understand that everything older students do is also right for them. I think there are some things you wait for. And I am not certain that all we hold for the future is necessarily what I want children to expect and perpetuate.

Important moments in our lives need to be celebrated and remembered. But maybe, just maybe, we can do that in ways that are not only memorable for us but also beneficial for others.

Take the recent Whitefield Academy Prom for example. They called it a “Prom With a Purpose.” Weeks before the event, students, alumni and parents set up a consignment store on campus, where students could purchase dresses and accessories at deep discount prices.

Instead of paying for an expensive venue, the class opted to hold the prom at the Lodge, a facility of Peachtree Presbyterian Church, which charged them what they would’ve paid for decorations.

Instead of renting stretch limousines, many drove their own cars. And instead of dining at expensive restaurants, they enjoyed dinner at the homes of fellow students.

A deal was made with a business owner for flowers. For every order, the store manager agreed to donate 50 cents plus an additional $100 of his own money if 100 students purchased from the store.

17-year-old, Alex Miltner, said he and a friend found a buy one-get-one-free deal and split the cost of their tuxedos for a savings of about $60.

The Prom With A Purpose is the brainchild of senior Andrews Steel, who conceived the idea sometime in August after learning that his biology teacher, Ann Schmitz, had been diagnosed with leukemia. Proceeds from the prom and some of the money saved would be given to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in honor of that teacher.

The whole effort was consistent with the school’s mission statement for seniors to graduate "with a passion for learning, for others ahead of self, and for the living and active Jesus.” In addition to the wonderful prom memories, these seniors have something much richer and lasting to remember.

The Whitefield Academy Class of 2010 has set an excellent example for others to follow. Maybe it will start a new trend.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," May 10, 2010. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]