Sunday, April 5, 2015

Prom or Money for College?

Sacred cows make for some of the juiciest hamburgers.  No, I am not making a point about religion.  Hindus need not worry here.  

I'm talking about the things organizations, systems, institutions, etc., consider culturally untouchable.  The out-of-the-box CEO or leader needs to be able to have serious conversations with his/her followers and bring everything being done at the company, school, institution, etc., to the barbecue.  A review of what's considered institutionally "sacred" could be the difference between growth and stagnation, or worse, insolvency.  

I grilled and made tasty patties out of the Quince on March 14, 2015.  See: Quinceanera-or-money-for-college.  Many Latinos, especially Mexicans, already shared my opinion, so it wasn't too hard to cook this cow.  The next bovine to be put on the chopping block is the dances of all dances, the ball of all balls, the one and only, Prom.  Blasphemy! You say.  Well, consider the following before you burn me at the stake...

Prom 2009 at Petco Park, home of the Padres.  Jessica joined me at work.

I have been to 10 high school proms.  This includes my own senior prom back in 1994.  Over the course of my career as a high school teacher and administrator, I have observed the senior prom become one of the most commercialized, cyclical money-maker of many businesses.  Catering companies, photography agencies, venues for reservation, fancy attire retailers, limo or other transportation businesses, florists, all salivate as the end of the school year draws ever so near.
I'm not anti-capitalist.  It's great that businesses can profit from their services/products to anyone, even our teens and their parents.  I can't believe I just said that.  Well, it's true, and what is to be expected in a free-market economy.  Yet, the success of the prom (for businesses) as a culturally untouchable "institution" of the high school experience has made for some trouble areas.  It has systematically began to price-out many kids out of the opportunity.  It has placed many kids and their parents in a difficult predicament, having to choose funding the prom versus partly funding freshman year of college.  And this I do not like.

Check out the image.  It's from this weekend's Barron's Magazine.

Visa numbers

High school students will be spending nearly $1000 total (on average) on their prom.  And that's a 6% decline from spending last year!  I'm sure you've seen videos of teens showing off their creativity in asking their date to the prom.  Some look low budget.  While others are an outright production.  The average cost of a prom proposal is $324!  What!?  Why?  Why are kids spending money to do this?  It's peer pressure, and the norm nowadays to make the proposal as memorable as possible.  If points could be awarded, some kids would break the machine.  It needs to stop.  

Male high school student, if you're reading this, don't spend more than $50 on a proposal.  Get a small flower bouquet and balloons, and be done with it.  She's gotta want to go with you, and how much you spend on a proposal should not be a determining factor.  If it is, she's probably materialistic, and you need to bounce on out of there.

Young ladies affording a prom dress is a huge problem!  In fact, many non-profits have been formed specifically to help with this.  Google: "Prom dress assistance," and you'll see for yourself.

While it is very noble and kind to help low-income families make prom more affordable, it still misses the point. 

Exactly like the Quince, the prom is a trade-off event for the non-wealthy.  Spend money on the prom = not save money for something else.  This "something else" could be an investment, a car to get around and use for travel to and from work, or even a college education.  With college being ridiculously expensive these days, is it time for educators and their respective communities to go to town on the prom?  I say, yes!

Going to prom is not mandatory.  It seems, however, that the choice to refrain from going is not about money for most seniors, it is about not being asked to prom that makes the ultimate decision.  A parent living on a strict budget will be both happy for their child and sad for their wallet upon hearing the news that prom is in play.  What can be done?

It would take a movement to make significant changes.  A national movement.  How could a society so concerned about the future debt crisis of current college graduates sit back and let a new generation ride the same ship?  We have to stop pretending that students get to "decide" how much to spend on prom.  

Ticket prices are set and dependent on the ASB director's event planning prowess.  Schools try to out-do each other.  If X school had their prom at Sea World, then Y rival school will have theirs at the San Diego Zoo.  If X school decides on the Queen Mary, then Y rival school will host at the USS Midway Museum.  And the kids aren't having hot dogs and hamburgers.  The spreads are amazing!  Trust me.  Renting a Tuxedo for guys is not super expensive, but unless you go with your own suit, it still adds up.  Girl's prom dresses?  Forget about it!  The whole thing (prom) is a racket!  And for what?  The Cinderella illusion.

Have the prom back at school.  Tell the kids to wear their best Sunday clothes and get dropped off or carpool.  Have a teacher/staff member who needs a full year's event duty do the DJ'ing pro bono.  Have the Photography club run picture taking.  Get parents to do a pot-luck and then leave so their kids can have fun.  This will make prom affordable for every high school senior, and it won't set them back on tuition for their post high school education.  But alas, this would be un-American.  Let's instead continue to partake in the dance of the credit cards as we have now for decades.  The prom is never coming to the barbecue.  Too bad, I would love to taste it grilled just right.

Thanks for reading.  Tweet me at  @COsvaGomez.

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