Principal Cancels Prom, Saying 'The Prom Culture Is Sick'

Catholic school head decries excessive spending, peer pressure.

Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by rides in a liquor-decked limo, parents chartering boats for late-night booze-cruises, $10,000 party house rentals in the Hamptons. You might expect this kind of thing on prom night in Laguna Beach — but Uniondale, New York?

Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland is having none of it. The principal of Kellenberg Memorial High school in Long Island, New York, recently sent parents a letter telling them that he's decided to cancel this spring's prom. The reason? The school is "willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy."

"It is not primarily the sex/booze/
drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake, in a word, financial decadence," Hoagland said in the 2,000-word letter, in which the principal of the private Roman Catholic school explained that he was fed up with the "bacchanalian aspects" of the high school rite of passage.

"Each year it gets worse, becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he said. "We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility."

Hoagland started talking about the future of prom at Kellenberg last spring after officials forced 46 students to back out of a deal to rent a $20,000 Hamptons pad for a post-prom party. Some other parents ignored the principal's wishes and rented a Hampton house for their kids to party in anyway, Hoagland said.

"Peer pressure and competition create an atmosphere where young people are drawn into this prom culture which forces them to act, spend, show off, take risks which they would not normally do," Hoagland's letter read. "The prom culture is sick — from the hankering that starts in the freshman year ... to the preoccupation about dates, dress, competition that absorbs so much of the senior year. It isn't worth it on the mature scale of things."

In the letter, Hoagland also lashed out at the sight of prom-goers who were visibly hung over or still intoxicated at graduation the next day, and the pressure for students to have sex on prom nights, sometimes abetted by parents who rent hotel rooms for them after the dance.

Amy Best, the author of "Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture," told The Associated Press that this is the first time she has heard of a school canceling the prom for such reasons.

"A lot of people have lamented the growing consumption that surrounds the prom," said Best, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University in Virginia, noting that it's not uncommon for students to spend $1,000 or more on the dance, expensive dresses, tuxedo rentals, flowers, limousines and pre- and post-prom parties.

As you might expect, the move brought strong reactions from parents and students. "I don't think it's fair, obviously, that they canceled prom," senior Alyssa Johnson told the AP. "There are problems with the prom, but I don't think their reasons or the actions they took solved anything."

The father of a Kellenberg senior said he and other parents are talking about organizing their own prom without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school, where parents pay more than $6,000 in annual tuition.

"This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," said Edward Lawson. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts. I don't believe that's the right thing to do."

Parent Margaret Cameron applauded the move. "The school has excellent values," she said. "We send our children here because we support the values and the administration of the school, and I totally back everything they do."

Despite his efforts, Hoagland knows the cancellation won't necessarily change things. "Senior drinking parties will continue; three-day bashes will continue in the Hamptons; parents will continue to organize all these activities; a great deal of money will be spent," Hoagland concluded in this letter. "The only difference is Kellenberg Memorial High School will not be a part of that scene. That's all!"