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The transition from high school to college or the workforce is quite the big deal for young people in America. Gaining independence, moving away from home, making your own money, and learning about who you are without friends and family are all a part of the journey students begin after graduation.

But entering this next phase of young adulthood means first coming to terms with the fact that your last phase is ending.

Jeremiah, who will graduate from high school in 2021, talks about having to “find new normals” after high school, detailing how senior traditions represent an end to the normalcy they’ve always known.

Traditions such as graduations, luncheons, prom, and trunk parties are chances to celebrate accomplishments and prepare for a new journey.

Kristen, class of 2021, highlights the importance of also taking senior pictures because, “You are only a senior in high school once, and we want to be able to look back on these moments and reflect on all our experiences.”

These traditions commemorate who students are in this stage of their lives and don’t just hold sentimental value for students; they’re also nostalgic moments for entire families as well.

With concerns for safety regarding COVID-19, school districts, organizations, and families have quickly adjusted to hold new celebrations for students. Virtual graduations, drive-by parades, and online parties have allowed students to celebrate their accomplishments with loved ones. However, there is one important tradition students haven’t quite been able to substitute at home: senior prom.

When students were asked what an ideal celebration would be like for them in COVID-19, most just wanted closure.

“This feels like a story stopped in the middle of the book,” said Siaunna, class of 2020.

COVID-19 has halted the lives of billions around the world, and for graduating students, these are moments they won’t get again. For many students, a senior prom is a last hurrah with classmates and friends, a chance to dress up, take pictures, and create final memories. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 1920s and has grown significantly over the years.

In Chicago, many students admit that they start planning for their senior prom years in advance, dreaming of “the perfect sendoff.” Families wear customized shirts, cater meals, decorate their homes, and even set up banners and red carpets for photo ops. Sylvia, class of 2020, describes prom as a chance to “see how people clean up” and “a coming-of-age event” that friends and families take pride in planning together.

The folks in leadership at Chicago nonprofit SocialWorks are all graduates of Chicago Public Schools and attended their high school proms, so they understand the importance of these traditions. Especially in Chicago, prom season takes over, with the influx of discounted deals at salons and boutiques, the decorated cars and limos transporting students, and the home decorations that linger long after the party ends. It’s a tradition graduating seniors missed out on this year, and when it’s safe to reconvene, SocialWorks plans to give the class of 2020 what they all deserve—a proper ending to their high school story and a chance to finally close the book. One last goodbye, this time in style.

Want to get involved?
Donate to the SocialWorks Prom:
Donate free or discounted services (salon/barber, makeup, nails, tailor) for students in need by emailing us at subject line: PROM SERVICES
Donate clothing or accessories for students in need by emailing us at subject line: PROM DONATIONS