Will You Go to Prom With Us?

Will You Go to Prom With Us?

Good morning.

Ah, prom.

For generations of American teenagers, it has been a durable rite of passage — one that often brings a heady swirl of angst and nervous excitement.

But this year, California high schoolers told me that their proms were different. After the students had spent the better part of a year learning from home, the events were sites of unfettered joy and relief, free of drama.

As Sienna Barry, a senior and the student body president at Petaluma High School, put it: “Why have drama on the one night you get of senior year?”

Over the past several weeks, Maggie Shannon, a Los Angeles-based photographer, attended the proms of four high schools spread across four regions of the state to capture the emotional, colorful, exuberant scenes for The New York Times. I talked to students later about what being able to attend prom this year meant to them.

There were many reminders that prom this year wasn’t normal, including masks specially made to match gowns. Many events were held outdoors, and vaccination or a negative coronavirus test was required for entry.

Nevertheless, the teens told me that the year apart made prom a chance for a poignant reunion and an opportunity to celebrate not only finishing high school, but also making it through the worst of the pandemic.

In Fowler, a Central Valley town just southeast of Fresno, where students were decked out in cowboy boots and hats, prom was a chance to cut loose with classmates who have become like family over many years of living in the same community.

“It had been such a long time since we’d all been together,” Komal Sandhu, the student body president at Fowler High School, told me.

The proms weren’t totally devoid of stress, though. Students and administrators had much less time than normal to plan the events.

Join Michael Barbaro and “The Daily” team as they celebrate the students and teachers finishing a year like no other with a special live event. Catch up with students from Odessa High School, which was the subject of a Times audio documentary series. We will even get loud with a performance by the drum line of Odessa’s award-winning marching band, and a special celebrity commencement speech.

And for some, the uncertainty meant putting together the perfect look in a hurry.

“It’s not like back in the day when you’d wear your grandpa’s suit and call it a day,” Marco J. Gochez, a senior at Encore High School in Hesperia, told me.

He had ordered a sparkly suit online, but it didn’t fit when it arrived. So he and his mom rushed to Macy’s, and he had to settle for what his friends told him was a more political vibe.

“It was fine though,” Gochez said. “I was just living my politician fantasy.”

At the proms, the fashions were as varied as the teens themselves. Revelers of all genders donned suits. Crocs weren’t an uncommon sight alongside heels and sneakers.

California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.

Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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