Proms become platform for good deeds, social change Sarah Kardonsky and Michael Pagano will be attending prom together at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, N.Y. Mike, who is autistic, is a big New York Jets fan. At left, Kaitlin McCarthy and Matty Marcone, students at Canton High School in Canton, Massachusetts (AP photos)
Proms become platform for good deeds, social change
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Proms traditionally have been a night of glamour and romance, complete with backstage drama over dates and dresses. But prom culture is changing and some teens now see prom as an opportunity to be inclusive rather than exclusive. They're using proms as vehicles for good deeds and to take a stand on issues that matter to them.

Teens are inviting classmates with autism to be their dates and one student group organized a prom for senior citizens. In Louisiana, a gay female student fought for the right to wear a tux and a museum now displays a prom dress worn by a student who spearheaded a racially integrated prom.

"Change can look like a prom dress," said Matthew McRae, spokesman for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg. "We thought it was a great example of someone making a change at the community level."

Prom can be "a platform for social change," said April Masini, who writes the AskApril.com advice column. While some teens see prom as a night of playing grown-up by dressing in fancy clothes, for others, "their idea of being an adult is standing up for what they believe in."

Here are some stories about teenagers who, instead of worrying about how to fit in, used their proms to reach out to others or express their right to be different.

Kaitlin McCarthy, 17, is a high school junior in Canton, Massachusetts. Her schoolmate, Matty Marcone, has special needs and a range of medical issues.

"He's the sweetest kid," Kaitlin said. "I see Matty for who he is. I say, 'Oh, that's my buddy Matty,' not 'Poor Matty, he's dealing with this or that right now.'"

Matty told Kaitlin he wanted to buy Disney World for her.

"I said, if he's going to buy Disney World for me, I should bring him to the prom," said Kaitlin.

The whole school including Kaitlin's boyfriend joined the effort and Matty learned to dance. Special ed teachers and the school nurse chaperoned to help manage Matty's diabetes. The hockey team, which had previously chosen Matty as team CEO, made sure he had friends to hang out with in addition to Kaitlin.

Matty and Kaitlin ended up being crowned prom king and queen.

"A lot of the kids know his situation, that he's very sick, but they also respect him as a peer. This wasn't done out of pity," said Matty's mom Susan Marcone. "There was magic in the room that night."

Another kind of magic took place at Division Avenue High School in Levittown, New York, when senior Sarah Kardonsky invited a friend with autism, Michael Pagano, to the prom.

Michael had asked several girls to the prom but all said no.

"I was going to go by myself if I didn't get a date," he said, "but it turned out Sarah had a plan."

Michael is a New York Jets fan, so Sarah messaged Jets players via Instagram and asked for help making a video prom invitation. To her surprise, Antonio Cromartie and eight other Jets sent videos of themselves saying, "Mike, will you go to the prom with Sarah?" She stitched the videos together and it was shown one morning in school with the day's announcements.

"He's such a great kid, I didn't want him to go alone," said Sarah. "He had already been turned down so many times, I wanted to make it special for him."

The publicity led to a free limo, free tux and an appearance on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show." But here's what matters to Sarah: "People who worry so much about what dress to wear or who to go with, that's not what prom is about. Prom is about having a good time. You should just be surrounded by people who make you happy."

Claudetteia Love, 17, was barred from wearing a tux to the April 24 Carroll High School prom in Monroe, Louisiana, but after word of her quest got out, the dress code was changed with the support of the school board president.

"I am thankful that my school is allowing me to be who I am," she said.

"Proms are a very traditional part of the high school experience," said Asaf Orr, staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which supported her case. "Participating in those events as your whole self, that's really what it's about. These kids are saying, 'I want to go to this event, I'm not going to hide part of who I am.'"

Last fall, Mareshia Rucker's red sparkly prom dress went on display at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. She wore the dress in 2013 to a racially integrated prom that she and other teenagers from Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Georgia, organized. Until then, segregated proms had been arranged by families in the community.

"Human rights isn't just something addressed by world leaders or famous people," said McRae, who helped curate the exhibit. "It's something we can all make a difference in."

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COMMENTS (17)
  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    4/29/2015 - 09:22 a.m.

    I think that this is such a sweet and important thing to do. Everyone should get to experience their junior and senior proms because it is truly memorable.

  • NashMcComsey-Ste
    4/29/2015 - 11:45 a.m.

    Prom season is back. As a teenager who will be attending prom this year, i can confirm that prom season brings about a certain social element to the normal school day and to the entire school environment. We can only hope it is use for positive things

  • Haley Patterson
    4/29/2015 - 01:56 p.m.

    I do feel that prom is now for good deeds because I just read something on CNN about a boy who asked his homosexual friend to prom because that's all he wanted since he was little and I thought that was very considerate of him.

  • jamieu-Lam
    4/29/2015 - 05:28 p.m.

    The main idea of this story is the students are trying to make prom fun for everybody. Teens are inviting students with autism to be their dates, including everyone no matter their color, and allowing the same sex to go to the prom together.

  • christinab-Lam
    4/29/2015 - 05:30 p.m.

    Prom culture is changing, and some teens now see prom as an opportunity to be inclusive rather than exclusive. For example, Claudettia Love had her school change the dress code to allow her to wear a tuxedo. Also, when Sara Kardonsky asked Michael Pagano to prom on the daily announcements, and she didn't even care if he had autism. Matty, who has diabetes, and his date Kaitlin were crowned prom king and queen.

  • CharismaM
    4/29/2015 - 09:08 p.m.

    The fact that teens are changing how prom is expected to be is a great thing. Instead of just thinking about whether or not they have a date or the perfect outfit, they're thinking about others. They're trying to make prom fun for everyone and they're making sure everyone is feels included.

  • 1GracieH
    4/30/2015 - 01:01 p.m.

    Proms traditionally have been a night of glamour and romance, complete with backstage drama over dates and dresses. But prom culture is changing and some teens now see prom as an opportunity to be inclusive rather than exclusive. They're using proms as vehicles for good deeds and to take a stand on issues that matter to them.

  • ShawnaWeiser-Ste
    4/30/2015 - 01:08 p.m.

    I've seen many videos about "popular" students ask mentally ill students to prom. I believe it is one of the best thing that anyone could do. They are people too and need to be treated like one.

  • MadisonSch
    4/30/2015 - 07:02 p.m.

    I think that this is such a nice and important thing to do. Everyone should get to experience their junior and senior proms because it is truly memorable.

  • ShaniaWentz-Ste
    4/30/2015 - 08:28 p.m.

    I love when people stand up for what they believe in and take charge to make something right. But doing it for prom makes it even better. Going on social media and rallying support is another great thing. All of the teens mentioned above deserve a round of applause for what they have done, and I hope that they continue with their great deeds!

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