A canceled date, another detention, an ill-timed zit: When you’re in high school, any number of problems can make it feel like the end of the world has arrived. Luckily, for those of us who’ve already graduated, a global pandemic never made the list.
But for students in the class of 2020, the Covid-19 crisis arrived just as they were receiving college acceptance letters, dreaming about new jobs, gearing up to leave high school behind — and making plans for prom, which, for most students, has been canceled.
We photographed 10 students from Omaha in the outfits they had planned to wear to the dance. They talked to us about their prom dreams, hopes and disappointments. The cultural rite of passage, which they’ve largely experienced through movies and television shows, books and Mom’s old photos, was their chance to feel like adults — or at least on the brink of adulthood, anyway — for the first time.
Now, it feels like high school is ending on a whimper. “There’s been so many tears, but I guess the best thing that’s helped me get through it is that I’m not alone,” said Olivia Mathews, 17. “Every senior in high school in the world right now knows how I feel, so that makes the pain a little easier to deal with.”
Prom has been rescheduled three times already. First, it was going to be in late April. Then, May 9. And now they just rescheduled it in June. The girls at our school really want to have a prom, and we have a teacher who really wants us to have one, too. We have that special kind of relationship with teachers where they’re not just our teachers — they know about our lives. They’re trying to do anything that they can.
I’m a big fangirl of prom. I watch a lot of movies about high school. I always envisioned prom as something special, something memorable, just because you only go to high school once.
At an all-girls school, prom is a really big deal, because we’re able to pick out a boy, and we can meet everyone’s boyfriends or guy friends. I was planning on taking this guy that I’m talking to, and we’re just really great friends. Who knows! What if we end up getting married, and we didn’t end up going to prom together? Anything could have happened on prom day.
Bellevue West High School
Trey Hepburn, 18
I was actually hoping that I would get prom king. I’m a likable person. I don’t treat anyone any different than how I would treat my family. In my head, I was thinking, I’d be dancing with somebody, and then the music stops and they announce it, and as soon as they do, everyone starts cheering and chanting my name. It would have been really cool.
Assuming that I stay healthy through this time, I would honestly say that I’m one of the lucky people in the sense that I was able to stay home through this and not have gotten the virus. But the fact that it happened like my year, it’s kind of funny: I was actually born right before 9/11 happened, and now I’m going into the real world with coronavirus happening. It’s weird.
Prom is a really big deal. Since it’s an all-girls school, we pick one prom queen and two princesses. I ordered my dress before spring break, in February. I was so excited, and I wanted to be prepared so I could plan my makeup and the jewelry, color-coding my outfit.
For me, it’s a day to be a princess. We wear uniforms all the time. We don’t get to wear jeans or any cute tops, so it was a day where I can wear something special and cute. It’s a day to treat myself: spending money, looking gorgeous, looking happy all that day, not worrying about homework. The very first job that I got was to save up money for prom.
I’m an immigrant from South Korea. I came here for high school. I tell my Korean friends that prom’s a big deal because it’s the last day that you can actually enjoy whatever you want to do before you graduate high school. I had the Disney Channel in Korea, and all the high school movies always had a prom. I wanted to have that experience at least once.
Ty McSweeney, 18
I go to an all-guys school. It is kind of a big deal, but not the worst thing in the world. It’s just another thing that we’re missing out on. The girls we’d take are probably more upset about it. I try to keep a positive mind-set. I’m on student council at my school, so I knew the plans for it. It was going to be a casino-type thing, a bunch of fun games. One of my friends is on the planning committee, and he’s been saying it’s like the biggest disappointment.
I’m not getting that experience to feel like I’m moving on in life. My life is just waiting for me, but I can’t leave the house. In time, I’m going to get over it. But looking back, if I have kids or something, they’ll be like, “Whoa, you were alive during this point,” so that’ll be kind of cool.
Mercy High School
Nyaduel Mayang Paljor, 18
I was hurt when I found out prom was canceled, because I was so excited to finally have my senior prom and look my best for the last time. I borrowed a dress. I went to Instagram and looked at some of my friends’ prom photos from last year, and saw one that I liked, so I screenshotted it and asked if I could borrow it.
I’ve had the same friend group since freshman year, and we take pictures together for every dance. It’s sad that we don’t get to get our last dance photo shoot together. I thought it’d be like the movies and I’d get to take photos with my friends, you know?
It sucks, because all that stuff is gone, but at the same time, a lot of stuff that I didn’t enjoy for my school is gone as well, so it balances out. I didn’t like waking up early every single day, five times a week. Now, I don’t have to do that.
Omaha Northwest High School
Livia McFadden, 17
I’m a big school person: I’m extra-involved, overinvolved. I like to support other people. So prom being canceled hurts, because everything that I do means so much to me. I always want to be making the most of the time I have, and now all that time is gone.
Everyone wants to walk in prom court, and that was something that I was looking forward to as well: the chance to run and maybe be prom queen. I was prom princess last year, and I felt amazing. I was special. I kind of got my moment already, but I wanted someone else to get the chance to feel the way that I felt. I just wish that everyone could have that moment.
Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don’t, but there’s always hope and there’s always a chance to seize an opportunity. Hopefully we can do something, as the class of 2020, to make up for the prom, and teach the lesson of don’t just give up because something’s been taken, but take it back.
I was disappointed when prom got canceled, because I always wear a suit that stands out a lot. This year was going to be all dark purple satin material. It had eagle cuff links, which is the mascot of our high school, and it was going to have a white cape around it, and I had golden spiked shoes that matched a golden bow tie. It was going to look really cool. I just like being different, standing out. At junior prom, I wore this pink leopard suit.
My grandma makes all my suits from scratch. She has since sophomore year. I usually come up with an idea, and then we go pick out a fabric that she likes, and she shows me how it’ll turn out. She’s already done with the suit part, but she’s not done with the cape. I usually always post pictures of my outfit on Instagram — it just won’t be the same.
It’s just kind of sad because the reason that it was canceled is all out of our control. There’s not a lot we can do about it. But I missed out only a little bit, because most people get two proms and I only had one. If I have kids, I’ll tell them to make the most of their prom and don’t have any regrets, because something might just come up like this again. You never know when it’s your last prom.
Central High School
Kaya Koraleski, 18
Junior prom isn’t that great, in my opinion, so I was super excited for senior prom. Prom is pretty much a rite of culture for Omaha kids. It’s the big night to get super dressed up. It’s always been a huge thing to go out and buy your dress early. I got my dress in December or January. Me and my two best girlfriends went to Von Maur here in Omaha, and it was like, prom is so far away, we’re not going to find a dress, and then I found the perfect one. I have this navy blue, long, super sparkly dress, because I wanted a dress with the themes of the roaring 20s, which is the theme of our year. I had my hair figured out in February. It’s a very indescribable feeling, getting ready for a big event that you know you’re going to remember for the rest of your life.
All my classes are moved online to doing Zoom meetings, and we’re talking in my government class about how this could be happening in the fall again, and it just sounds like a nightmare that this is going to happen during my freshman year of college, too. It just feels like I’m missing a lot of the big opportunities that people are always like, “Oh, just wait for this. It’s one moment that you’ll never forget.” I’m not getting those moments.
Isiaah Clark, 18
I am part of chamber choir, and last year the seniors in the program approached me with the idea of having me play the piano and sing at their prom. Of course, I was kind of hesitant, because I was still a junior and I really looked up to those guys. But it was really dope. I was going to play again this year. My friend and I had been going through and vetting people and making sure they were serious about playing at prom, because it’s a time commitment, with the rehearsals.
We were going to play Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars and then also our class song, which is “Home,” by Phillip Phillips. It would have been magical to be up there jamming with my friends. Honestly, they’re like my brothers. Something I think I would never forget is the energy in the room. It would have been electric.
I was going to take my girlfriend to prom. It would have been on our one-year anniversary, on prom day. My grandfather was going to let me drive his Corvette, which just hurts now.
Marian High School
Olivia Mathews, 17
I have a bunch of older siblings, so I was looking forward to this moment my whole life. As a kid, I was just like, “Wow, that looks so cool, I can’t wait till I get to do that someday. Only the big kids get to do it!” When I finally got to that age, I was like, this is my time to shine. My first prom was junior year, and I didn’t know that it was going to be my last one, so I didn’t really soak it all in. If I had known, I would have spent less time on my phone. I would have partied like there was no tomorrow.
I feel like the world has kind of skipped over us, and forgotten how big of a deal your senior year can be. When everything started to get canceled, I was like, can’t we postpone it? Because this is it for me. I’m not going to be able to do this ever again.