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Four Simple Letters Spark Fear This Time of Year: P-R-O-M

Shelley Murphy. File photo
Shelley Murphy. File photo

By Shelley Murphy

Dating back to the early 1900s, prom figures prominently in popular culture and today still retains its status as a premier high school rite of passage.

Prom is one of the few milestones remaining in my younger son’s high school career. Like his brother before him, my high school junior can’t wait for time to tick by as I continue to cling to the clock, petulantly marking each memorable event.

High school students attending those first proms early in the twentieth century wouldn’t recognize the transformation of their fancy formal dances into today’s lavish evening extravaganzas. Today’s prom preparation begins long before the event with what’s commonly called the “promposal.”

The time-worn traditional question, “Will you go to prom with me?” has evolved into today’s promposal: an imaginative and over-the-top invite to prom.

In three weeks my son attends his high school prom, but months ago he started contemplating clever and creative ways to ask his girlfriend to join him. Some teens spend almost as much effort and expense in the asking as the event itself.

Nowadays, elaborate promposals rely on famous athletes or popular celebrities to do the asking, others orchestrate scavenger hunts, some beg on billboards and a few stage flash mobs.

This time of year I can’t turn on the “Today” show without seeing a teenager holding a sign with a name in bold followed by “PROM?”

Of course, the goal of the promposal is posting it on social media sites, elevating the once private moment to a public contest. Like everything in high school today, the promposal is competitive and the pressure is on to deliver an epic invite.

Last month, networks and websites focused attention on the high school senior who took his great-grandmother to his prom. Sure, the sweet story tugs at heartstrings, but I think the boy saw an out and took it—avoiding the painstaking promposal.

Credit for creating the promposal phenomenon is undocumented, but its origin appears to be in our own backyard on the decade-old MTV teen reality show, “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.”

After episodes showcasing male cast members staging spectacular promposals involving gorilla suits and goldfish, local school officials said they began noticing an upswing in the trend.

During peak popularity of the show, my older son asked his girlfriend to prom by planning a complicated and covert operation. After a late night dinner at Fisherman’s he and his date walked along the pier, while beneath it two of his buddies wearing wetsuits floated in the frigid water alongside a surfboard supporting a poster-board covered in glow sticks spelling out “PROM?” As planned, his friends swam out from beneath the pier towing the sign, but choppy waters caused many of the glow sticks to plunge into the sea. (She said yes.)

Last week, my younger son finalized his promposal plan and asked for my help.

My first task took me to U-Haul to find a large box. As I searched for their biggest box, a clerk approached and asked what I planned to put in the box. I replied, “My son.” Instead of speed dialing Child Protective Services, she laughed and said the word I’ve grown weary of hearing, “Prom?”

After buying a box big enough to stuff my 6-foot 3-inch son into, I stocked up on other supplies and waited for direction.

Later that evening my son and I snuck into his girlfriend’s unoccupied home. We constructed the box and I wedged him in it, wrapped it up, taped it shut and left her house with him stuffed inside the box in her bedroom. Eventually his girlfriend and her mom arrived home to discover the life-size surprise. She said yes.

Prom represents more than a teenage social event celebrating the end of an academic year; it’s recognized as a pinnacle moment commemorating the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

As a junior, my son has one last promposal to pull-off and I have another milestone to mark before his high school graduation next June. I have a feeling he’ll handle his senior year rite of passage much better than I will.

Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband and two sons for the past 14 years. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times since 2006.

In an effort to provide our readers with a wide variety of opinions from our community, the Dana Point Times provides Guest Opinion opportunities in which selected columnists’ opinions are shared. The opinions expressed in these columns are entirely those of the columnist alone and do not reflect those of the DP Times or Picket Fence Media. If you would like to respond to this column, please email us at

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