By Kat Kinsman, CNN
Editor's note: In 1990, Eatocracy's Kat Kinsman didn't have a date to her senior prom. Only opposite-sex couples were allowed to buy tickets, so she couldn't just pair up with a friend. She was terrified to go without a date, but decided she'd take a leap of faith. Here's the pep talk she wishes she could have given herself more than 20 years ago.
(CNN) - Dear 17-year-old self considering staying home on prom night because you don't have a date,
Oh, you poor, stressed-out, self-hating misfit girl, just suck it up and go.
It won't be the night of your life, as all those '80s movies and special TV episodes would lead you to believe. The boy you've had a crush on since junior high won't suddenly declare his hidden love for you as he twirls you across the dance floor (as it turns out, he'd rather ask someone in a tux to dance).
There won't have been a secret addendum to the ballot electing you prom queen. No one is packing pig's blood. Your "virtue" will remain thoroughly intact.
You'll dance badly and happily to "Funky Cold Medina" while listening to your girlfriends whine about how their dates are ignoring them in favor of the lively card tournament at the corner table. You'll drink terrible schnapps in someone's cousin's hot tub afterward and comfort your tipsy pals as teenage romantic drama unfolds around you.
You'll also learn something pretty fundamental about yourself that night: You don't need anyone's permission to experience life or like yourself.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - On Saturday, 68 seniors will graduate from Wilcox County High School in South Georgia, leaving behind a legacy that could last long after they’ve said their goodbyes: Next year, for the first time, their high school will host a prom.
It’s a new tradition in their small rural community, one they hope will eliminate their county’s custom of private, racially segregated proms.
A small group from 2013’s senior class sparked the idea of an integrated prom this year, bucking 40 years of high school tradition.
When their county’s racially segregated schools combined in the early 1970s, the school called off its homecoming dance and prom; it was a volatile time at the newly integrated school, alumni said, and parents and school leaders were wary of black and white students attending the same dance. Like in many other Southern communities, Wilcox County students and parents stepped in to plan private, off-site parties, complete with formal gowns, tuxedos, DJs and décor.
But long after outward racial tension died down, the private, segregated parties in Wilcox County remained - a quiet reminder of racism, students said.
This year, a few white and black seniors organized a prom open to all Wilcox County High School students, whether white, black, Latino or Asian.
"If we're all together and we love each other the way we say we do, then there are no issues," integrated prom organizer and Wilcox County senior Mareshia Rucker said during the dance in April. "This is something that should have happened a long time ago."
Their campaign drew international media attention and an outpouring of online support and donations of money, prom dresses and DJ services. It also drew some criticism from students and parents who liked the old tradition, and community members who worried about the negative light cast on their small town.
Regardless of the ups and downs, students said, they would have preferred an official school prom instead of a private, integrated event off-campus.
Next year, it’s happening.
By Mariano Castillo, CNN
Birmingham, Alabama (CNN) - The class of 1963 crowded in a rectangle on the dance floor, the memories of high school fresh on their minds as the band played in a sea of pink and blue hues.
Aretha Franklin. Etta James. The Temptations. Just what you would expect to be playing at a 1960s prom. Yet the song that drew the most bodies to the dance floor was "The Wobble."
Until this hip-hop song emptied the chairs, it felt as if the auditorium had been transported back 50 years.
But it's 2013, and despite the full-court nostalgia for the 1960s, that decade was one of the most difficult times in Birmingham's history.
Societal tensions over race were so high in 1963 that the city canceled senior prom for five of the city's segregated high schools for blacks.
Today, a half century has passed since the seminal civil rights protests that changed Birmingham and plotted a path for the nation away from segregation and toward equal rights.
Just like that path, the healing process has been a long one.
The Historic 1963 Prom, held Friday and hosted by the city of Birmingham, closed one chapter for these Alabamans.
'A tension-filled city'
Growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s, Earnestine Thomas knew the rules of this segregated city. At a restaurant, she could pay in the front, but had to walk around the back to get her food from a cook. She could shop only in certain places; there were neighborhoods that she knew not to visit.
"As a child, I recognized that it was unfair, but didn't understand that there were laws propping (segregation) up," she said as she waited for a hair appointment before Friday's prom.
She treated herself to a hair styling before donning a lavender dress with a sequined jacket and matching shoes. Lavender was a fitting color, she said, not just because it is her favorite, but because it was the school color at Parker High School.
It was a day of celebration that she and her classmates were denied in 1963.
(CNN) - About 20 students from Western High School in Davie, Florida, were on their way to prom when a van swerved and flipped on the interstate nearby. Five adults and two children were inside. When their limo screeched to a halt, students called 911 and went into action, pushing the van to free some passengers, and pulling others out, CNN affiliate WSVN reported. Some of the students had emergency training through the health occupations program at their school.
All the passengers had non-life-threatening injuries, and the students - some with blood on their dresses - said they had a great time at prom.
By Rachel Simmons, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Spring may be graduation season, but the most coveted rite of passage for many teenage girls is the prom.
From the latest craze of "promposals" to the minute-by-minute social media broadcast of it all, the rituals of prom form a throwback cultural primer called "How to be a young woman." Teen girls are competing relentlessly to be queen.
The queens of prom are the conventionally beautiful, the wealthy and the heterosexual - always passively waiting to be asked.
Isn't prom just a fun dance that hardworking students deserve? Sure, but it's also an event where girls internalize damaging cultural messages. Those who are exalted on this "once in a lifetime" night offer an object lesson in how modern girls are expected to look and act.Prom is a cultural report card of sorts on how well, or not, young women are doing.
Here's what a bright 17-year-old girl learns as her lace gown drags behind her into the school gymnasium:
She learns that she must have money to attend the prom
Prom was modeled after the debutante ball of the old days, where elite girls formally announced they were ready to date, while a hand-picked bevy of suitors watched. Today, prom is still a rich girl's party.
In 2013, prom spending will rise on the shoulders of a more robust economy. Families who plan to spend money on the big night are expected to drop an average of $1,139. All that cash might be good for business, but it disadvantages the poor and working class girls who can't keep up. Meanwhile, boys can get away with renting a tux for less than $100.
Editor's note: In May, the superintendent of Wilcox County, Georgia, schools announced the high school will host its first official school prom in 2014. Read the full story
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
Wilcox County, Georgia (CNN) - It's a springtime tradition in this stretch of the magnolia midlands for crowds to gather at high school students' proms. They'll cheer for teens in tuxedos and gowns while an announcer reads what the students will do once they leave this pecan grove skyline.
Earlier this month, Wilcox County High School senior Mareshia Rucker rode to a historic theater in the nearby town of Fitzgerald to see her own classmates' prom celebration. She never left the car, even to catch up with her friends. She'd recently helped to invite the critical gaze of the world to her county; few would be happy to see her there, she said. Besides, she's black and wasn't invited to this prom reserved for white students anyway.
For as long as most remember, Wilcox County High School hasn't sponsored a prom for its 400 students. Instead, parents and their children organize their own private, off-site parties, known casually as white prom and black prom - a vestige of racial segregation that still lives on.
"When people say that seeing is believing, it truly is," Mareshia says a few days later from the comfortable bustle of her family's kitchen, central command for the three generations that share it.
"Just talking about it, it didn't hurt my feelings. I didn't care," she says. "When I saw it, I felt really crappy. I didn't understand what was so different about me and them."
She apologizes as her eyes grow shiny and tears dribble down her face. Toni Rucker swoops in to fold her arms around her oldest daughter.
"What is the difference," she murmurs, Mareshia's head resting on her chest. "There is no difference."
Mareshia and her friends bucked 40 years of local customs this month by organizing their own integrated prom, a formal dance open to Wilcox County's white, black, Latino and Asian high school students. Organizers, both black and white, said they lost friends in the process - a grim experience in the waning weeks of the school year. It's been hard on the rest of their hometown, too.
When the story erupted on TV and social media, Wilcox County became a symbol of race relations stuck in the past. People around the world heard about the sneers from some classmates, the silence from some adults, the school board that says it supports them but didn't sponsor its own prom. Thousands lashed out at the old tradition or offered up kind words, cash, dresses, a DJ. Stunned, they wanted to know, could this be true? In 2013?
New York (CNNMoney) - From paying for a designer dress to renting a fancy limo, teens (and their parents) are shelling out hundreds or even thousands of dollars this prom season.
On average, families expect to spend $1,139 on prom this year - up roughly 40% from 2011's $807 average and a slight increase from last year, according to a Visa survey.
Families in the Northeast expect to pay the most, an average of $1,528, while Midwestern families were the most frugal, at an average of $722, according to the survey of more than 1,000 parents of prom-aged teens.
With traditions like debutante balls falling out of fashion and young people getting married later in life, prom has grown in importance and people are willing to spend more on the big night, said Kit Yarrow, a consumer research psychologist.
"Prom is the new wedding," Yarrow said. "I think that every society has to have a rite of passage into adulthood for young people, and prom has become that."
The increase in prom spending is also being driven by the popularity of photo-oriented sites like Facebook and Instagram, she said. Prom is "a post-able moment" which has heightened the pressure around appearances.
While parents still foot a majority of the bill, teens pay for about 41% of the costs, Visa's survey found.
By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) - As Quanesha Wallace remembers, it was around this time last year when the idea first came up at Wilcox County High School. It was nothing big, just chatter about prom, school, what comes next, what they'd change.
If things were different, someone said, we'd all go to the same prom.
For as long as anyone could remember, students in their South Georgia community went to separate proms, and homecoming dances, too. White students from Wilcox County attend one. Black students, another. They’re private events organized by parents and students, not the school district. Schools have long been desegregated, but in Wilcox County, the dances never changed.
The friends all agreed they'd go to an integrated prom, Quanesha said, and when they asked, others said, "Yeah, I'd go, too."
"We are all friends," Quanesha's friend, Stephanie Sinnot, told CNN affiliate WGXA-TV in Macon, Georgia. "That's just kind of not right that we can't go to prom together."
So now it's April, and prom is coming up, and these black and white friends, longtime pals who go to classes together and play sports together and hang out together, are going to prom together, too. For the first time, students are organizing an integrated dance, one that welcomes any of Wilcox County High's 400 students.
"This is going to be the biggest prom ever to come through Wilcox County," said Quanesha, one of the event's organizers.
The theme will be "Masquerade Ball in Paris." There will be an Eiffel Tower and Mardi Gras-style masks, dancing, flowers, catered food and a clubhouse in nearby Cordele. They're expecting gowns, ties, manicures, up-dos, sparkle. Quanesha has a date, although she hasn't decided on a dress.
"If you want to get fancy, get fancy," said Quanesha, 18. "If you don't, that's fine."
Attendees will vote on a king and queen but also cutest couple, best smile, best dressed. They'll do a recognition ceremony for a classmate who died. They'll start a new prom tradition: a unity toast.