Proms become platform for good deeds, social change
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
Lexile: 920L

Assign to Google Classroom

Proms traditionally have been a night of glamour and romance, complete with backstage drama over dates and dresses. But prom culture is changing. 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. 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. He is a 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. She writes the 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. 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. 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. The organization 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."

Critical thinking challenge: What did Matthew McRae mean when he said, "Change can look like a prom dress?"

Source URL:

Filed Under:  
Assigned 186 times

  • Rachelc-Pav
    4/30/2015 - 10:15 a.m.

    I think its amazing that people are giving these people a chance to have the time of their lives. Everyone deserves to enjoy their time at prom . People with autism are just as equal as a person without it does.

  • Elenao-Pav
    4/30/2015 - 10:26 a.m.

    It is a such a wonderful idea to start taking perhaps students with disabilites because they deserve to experience what any other student would in their highschool years, especially to make memories on a night like prom so having a disabled student joining in by other students is such a good deed and really shows an increase of friendliness between our society.

  • 21lenels
    4/30/2015 - 12:00 p.m.

    That is so cool! I've never been to prom, but I've dreamed about who I will go with, what I will wear, etc. It has never crossed my mind to do something good at prom. I tried to raise money for a local hospital with a bake sale at a dance, but it didn't go very well.

  • Shauntez-rod
    4/30/2015 - 01:34 p.m.

    i liked this story . it was cool and interesting to read and i find it cool what the students did for all those kid and it was really nice of them and it could show other kid that prom is more than dressing up and going out it is about having fun and having a good night with your friends and its a night to remember

  • Semaj-rod
    4/30/2015 - 01:45 p.m.

    i dont like prom and i dont think i will ever attend a prom night i think its boring and i dont wanna go but i migh one day

  • stephanieg-Che
    4/30/2015 - 01:58 p.m.

    I find it cool that the students are taking prom as a chance to ask classmates with autism. Maybe if these students didn't ask those with autism then they wouldn't have a date to prom and they would probably feel ugly. The way the girl argued for them to let her wear a tux was brave of her, its good she stood up for her rights.

  • GiaB2
    4/30/2015 - 02:07 p.m.

    This is so sweet! Its amazing how one person does it others join. I'm glad those people got dates to prom and had a great time.

  • ReaganT02
    4/30/2015 - 02:49 p.m.

    This is such a nice thing to do! This story is so inspiring, I might want to do that in high school someday! It's such a cool thing to hear that people look at what's in the inside these days, especially with the social pressures we face in this day in age!

  • ClaraT29
    4/30/2015 - 02:52 p.m.

    The prom is thought of as a night to remember. Girls dress up in colorful dresses full of sparkles and bling. Campaigning for the famous title of Prom Queen consumes much of the time following the big dance. Boys wear tuxes and take the girls to prom. The process of asking a girl to prom is a large ordeal, filled with pictures and flowers. But do these things really have to take place to have a perfect prom that is memorable? The answer is no. It truly warms my heart that people are taking the time to trie to get equality for everyone, even for the slightest high school dance. We must include everyone in the prom festivities no matter who they are and what they are interested in.

  • sommerp
    4/30/2015 - 03:42 p.m.

    In the story i think it was a really cool/good idea to have kids set up a prom for senior citiezns and to make good deeds out of there prom is all for good deeds is what these kids tell me.

Take the Quiz Leave a comment