Senior prom: a night to remember

Every senior prom needs a hard-working decorations committee. Even though Jeremiah E. Burke High School's prom was being held in the corporate splendor of the Copley Marriott's Salon E, Salon E still needed a little attention before it looked like the fairyland a prom ballroom should look like. It's 7 o'clock on a May Thursday evening - barely an hour before folks are due to start arriving - and teacher Arcena Anderson and her two junior class assistants are still busy, blowing up the last of the balloons. There's a steady click-click of silver as waitresses set 10 big round tables, and there's an occasional whoosh from the container of helium.

The theme is ``A Night to Remember,'' as indicated by the silver stars and poster of Boston at night pinned up above the stage. A mosaic mirror ball, of the type beloved in the '60s, casts a delicate spray of whirling lights on the walls. ``Giving a prom doesn't have to be expensive when it comes to decorations,'' says Mrs. Anderson, dealing firmly with a wayward balloon attached to a loudspeaker. ``All you need is a few ideas and a little creativity.''

Across the front of the dance floor is a graceful rainbow-shaped arch of blue and white balloons anchored down by a large palm at each end. Every chair circling the big white tables has a white or blue balloon tied to a long string at the back. They shift gently, looking undeniably festive.

In a little while, Ed Cardoza comes in. Mr. Cardoza teaches English at Jeremiah Burke High School in the Dorchester section of Boston, known locally as ``the Burke.'' The Burke is one of the smallest schools in the city, he explains. There are only 96 students in the senior class, and only 750 in the whole school. ``It's in a very tough neighborhood. A majority of kids walk to school. It's a throwback - a community high school that survived.''

Being so small made it doubly hard to put on an extravaganza like the prom, he says. The kids did all kinds of fund raising: ``We sold candy, we did `roses for your valentine' on Valentine's Day, we sold T-shirts with the seniors' names on them, we had raffles at Thanksgiving.''

The highlight of the evening will be the election of the king and queen. ``They get a crown and a tiara and do a dance. One year they both had come stag, and they left together,'' he says, laughing.

By 8:30 or so it appeared that everybody was arriving fashionably late. We drifted out to the entrance to see what was keeping them. A 1955 Rolls Royce, as softly white as new snow, purrs up and decants two young men in tuxedoes and their dates, who emerge shaking out long pink silky skirts.

The driver, Greg Scinta of Waites Transportation (``When luxury becomes a necessity''), explains that it costs anywhere from $250 to $400 to rent a Rolls Royce. ``We give them an hour and a half before the function and an hour and a half after. All the time in between is waiting time,'' he says. ``Most of the time is spent picking up everybody and taking pictures. Sometimes they go visit the grandparents - that's real popular, too.''

As he rolled off to the garage, more people start arriving. The girls trip daintily in high heels through the revolving door and up the escalators, their long skirts held up high on one side, their hands in long gloves or short gloves or lace mitts, with vast bowed and flowered corsages on slim wrists. Everybody of course has a tiny glittery purse, the kind your mother puts a scented lace hanky in, and money for emergencies.

Upstairs, the first order of the evening is picture taking. Some young men, looking extremely dashing, have white top hats and canes to match their tuxedoes. They are having a lot of fun leaning on their canes and striking elegant man-about-town, Fred Astaire-type poses. Dan Roach, a tall, pleasant, lanky fellow, says having a cane makes him feel ``up!'' His friend Kenny Wideman, also in hat and cane, says, ``You should take pictures while he's moonwalking.''

One corner of the room is set up with the white umbrellas of the official photographer, a fatherly man who whisks up to adjust a tie, or tuck a bit of baby's breath more firmly into a hairdo. And then - click: a portrait to go on a proud parent's piano or mantel.

Guys talk with feeling about the long time it took them to save up for the big occasion. Owego Rowe, class president, a tall and reserved young man, says he has been saving since January. ``It's everything I expected it to be.''

Girls are more likely to talk about the difficulties in finding a suitably wonderful prom dress. Mr. Rowe's date, Yvesrose Saintdic, is wearing a gorgeous rose-colored gown. She says it was the third dress she had bought for the dance. ``I went crazy; I kept bringing them back.''

``They're a good bunch of kids,'' says disc jockey Michael Weinstock, getting up to change a record as ``Smooth Operator'' segues into repetition. Mr. Weinstock says that, in addition to ``Top 100'' songs, kids today like some older songs too. ```Stand By Me' - anything that's from the movies; you'd be surprised,'' he says.

Across the room, Anthony Loftis and Tangy Mitchell, in white tuxedo and pink satin dress, respectively, are eating their chicken and wild rice and poached tomato. They hadn't been entirely sure they were coming to the prom at all, says Mr. Loftis, who has a great grin, but ``she made her gown, I got my tux, so we came.'' He describes the occasion as ``sort of like family. It's like all the seniors together - our last chance to party together before everybody splits up and goes their separate ways.''

By 10:30 or so, everyone has eaten, and the dance floor presents an elegant and joyful scene. The lights revolve slowly, everybody is dancing - fast, slow, it doesn't matter; guys dance with their canes, jumping up and down; it's all a whirl of delicious colors and motion.

Then Mr. Cardoza prepares to announce the selection of the king and queen of the prom. The music stops. Mrs. Anderson rolls out a narrow red paper carpet for the king and queen to dance on.

The winners are Jerome Douglas, who looks delighted, and wears his big blue velvet crown with an air; and Kerla Brandon, who puts her lace-gloved hand over her face to wipe away a tear of excitement as Mrs. Anderson sets the tiara on her head. The two dance on the red paper carpet, and then everyone sweeps onto the floor and begins to dance again. Carolyn Johnson, a teacher, says ``It seems like a very close family right now.''

After her inaugural dance, Miss Brandon stops to receive the congratulations of friends. ``It's terrific.... It's so unbelievable,'' she says. ``I'm happy, and my mother is going to be proud of me.''

By midnight, the ballroom begins to have a deserted look. A few people sit quietly here and there, and a few others are still doggedly taking a picture or two, but most of the dancers have gone, piling into their stretch limousines to be borne off to their homes, or other parties, out for Chinese food, or wherever.

The room is almost dark; on the dance floor one couple and two girls in pink still bounce up and down.

``Die-hards, die-hards; we'll have to pull the plug,'' says Mr. Cardoza, laughing. There are balloons on the ceiling, and balloons on the floor, and balloons, still upright, glowing sporadically in the light, like an army of little moons.

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