For the second year in a row, COVID-19 doused the chances that many graduating seniors in Southern California had to attend a prom, missing out — again — on the most iconic dance of their high school years.
In a year when simply attending class in person was at best a tentative option, most local public schools opted to skip the annual dance.
And some mothers in Orange County decided that stunk.
So, after several months of organizing and working with an events coordinator who happens to own a country club venue in Coto de Caza and is the region’s go-to guy for prom production in non-pandemic years, seniors at eight local high schools are getting their rite of passage. And, yes, they’re sticking to coronavirus health and safety protocols.
The guy who worked with the mothers refers to the dances as “Mom Proms.”
Yes, even gum
These are private events; no school or school district has been connected to the production of the Mom Proms. Every prom attendee signs a special, mom-generated waiver (acknowledging the health issues at play) before they can get into the common prom venue, the Coto Valley Country Club.
The theme for all eight dances also has been the same — “Maskerade” — to emphasize (and have some fun with) the non-negotiable mask requirement.
In one of many nods to the pandemic, prom goers have to undergo temperature checks to get in. But they also have to deal with a lot of other things that have become standard prom practice even in non-pandemic years: breathalyzer tests and checks for weapons and booze. “Even gum,” says Kenney Hrabik, who owns Coto Valley Country Club and has been something of a Mom Prom Sherpa.
Still, Hrabik, whose company AllStar Events & Venues specializes in dances, grad nights and other high school events, said the health and safety stuff is balanced with tradition and fun. “We treated these Mom Proms just like any regular school prom.”
So far, all has gone well.
Six of the eight high schools — El Toro, Trabuco Hills, Mission Viejo, San Juan Hills in south Orange County, Beckman in Irvine, and Edison and Huntington Beach in Huntington Beach — have already held their proms. Beckman was the first, the last weekend in April. Two other schools — San Juan Hills and Huntington Beach — are slated to have their events on May 29 and June 5.
“We just want to give these kids a choice and they have to decide whether they feel comfortable doing it or not,” said one of the Mom Prom organizers, Kerry Shaughnessy.
The oldest of her three children, Stevie, a senior at Tesoro High in Rancho Santa Margarita, attended her prom Saturday, May 22. That night, 283 seniors and their dates showed up for the dance, with only a few no-shows. Tickets were $100 per student, the same for all the Mom Proms.
Kerry Shaughnessy noted that some of the kids called it the “best dance” in their four years of high school.
“They loved the live band too.”
No prom for Mom
Shaughnessy, who lives in Las Flores, is the mom who got the whole thing started, first with parents at Tesoro, and then inspired moms with students at the other campuses.
But there’s a twist: Shaughnessy is from England; she didn’t grow up with the prom tradition. “We never did this stuff.”
But last year, when the growing coronavirus threat turned prom cancellations into afterthoughts, she saw that her daughter and other high school kids were disappointed. That feeling only grew when they faced the prospect of a non-prom ending to the 2021 school year.
What’s more, Shaughnessy’s American-raised husband, Steve Shaughnessy, had nothing but good memories of his prom at Capistrano Valley High.
“These poor kids have had such a rough ride of it,” Kerry Shaughnessy said.
“They’ve barely been on campus. And they missed out on so many things. If we could get them a prom, then they could go out with a bang.”
So Kerry Shaughnessy, who had been involved with fundraisers held at Coto Valley Country Club, reached out to AllStar Events.
Hrabik, a professional prom coordinator for about 35 years, said over the years he has planned proms for most high schools in Orange County. In March, when Shaughnessy reached out, he already had a pretty good idea that most public schools were to skip proms again. He also was willing to work on a plan for the private proms with the moms, as long as health guidelines were followed. He also cautioned them that if the schools decided closer to prom season that they would hold the dances, the Mom Proms would have to be canceled.
Lindy Flowers, an acquaintance of Shaughnessy through youth sports programs, got the Mom Prom ball rolling at her daughter Hailey’s school, San Juan Hills High in San Juan Capistrano.
Flowers (Edison High, class of 1989) can’t remember the theme of her senior prom. But she does remember her date, her dress, and how uncomfortable her shoes were that night. She wants those memories for her two kids.
“Your prom, you carry with you. All my friends were there. It was kind of our last big celebration before grad night,” Flowers said.
“It’s a huge milestone.”
Bittersweet? Mostly sweet
As Shaughnessy and Flowers worked on proms at their schools, word spread among moms at other campuses, and they formed their own organizing committees.
A key issue is health. The maximum number of students allowed to sign up for each prom (200 to 333 depending on the school) represents less than one-third of the country club’s 1,300-person capacity, putting attendance well within CDC guidelines, Hrabik said.
The large, multi-room building set on a six-acre site offers enough space for prom goers to keep their distance, or at least what passes for distance at a high school dance. Special rooms are designated for specific activities, and the beverage and dessert areas are outdoors. Chairs and tables are set at health-approved distances, and masks are expected to be worn except when eating and drinking.
Those precautions won over a lot of wary parents — and some students. “I know my daughter wouldn’t go any other way,” said Flowers.
Stevie Shaughnessy, Kerry Shaughnessy’s 17-year-old daughter, is going to San Francisco State to play college volleyball. A lot of her friends are heading to the East Coast or Midwest for college.
Disappointed that so many other traditional senior moments had been wiped out by COVID-19, she was skeptical when her mother first broached the idea of creating a Mom Prom at Tesoro High.
“I was actually really surprised that anything was going to happen.”
A math tutor with a second part-time job at a battery store and a 4.6 GPA, Stevie Shaughnessy attended her prom with boyfriend Henry Brannon, a junior, and a small group of friends.
“I feel like this is one normal thing we actually get.”
She wore a long pink formal with a cross-cut back and a small trail. She borrowed it from her mom.
Source: Orange County Register