Like most rites of passage, prom night burns itself in your memory with the effectiveness of molten lead on butter. It marks the beginning of a transformation, the start of something new and exciting, an entry into a radically different world.
Unlike most rites of passage, however, prom nights are recorded for eternity in photographs. Twenty, 30, even 50 years from now, there's not a prom-goer in the world who won't stumble across one of those Kodak moments and groan, "What was I thinking with that hair-do? And look at that clown outfit I was wearing!"
That, alas, will be the cruel fate of five Payson High School seniors, and one junior, who recently joined in on a roundtable discussion of their once-in-a-lifetime prom night scheduled to blossom in all it's rented glitz and glamour this Saturday evening at St. Phillips Catholic Church.
There's something else that's unique about prom night. How many rites of passage come complete with an exact time and date?
And how many can cost an arm and a leg?
The prom night price tag for PHS senior Zach McQuain, for example, only began with the $85 it cost to procure a tuxedo.
"And then there's dinner, the pictures, the flowers, transportation," he said. "It's adding up to a lot. The total will depend on where we go for dinner; we haven't decided on that yet."
McQuain doesn't wince when he said this, although he's footing the bill himself.
"I just know that after today, there's only 18 school days until graduation," he said with an extremely satisfied smile. "I'm making the memories as I go."
So is senior Julia McCormick, 17, who's planning to show up and leave the prom in the company of her boyfriend and a group of pals.
"We think of prom as our last big opportunity to spend time with people we really like," she said. "You can go on a date any time and be alone; you can't really go on a date when you're all dressed up and with a whole bunch of friends."
Afterwards, "we're going over to a friends house," McCormick said. "Like last year when we stayed up until about six o'clock in the morning we're going to be playing board games and hanging out and just having fun."
And maybe a few tears, too.
"It's a sad and happy time, because you've been with some of these people since grade school, everybody is going their own ways, and you don't know if you'll stay in contact with them," McCormick said. "It's sad, but you want to make the best of your last moments together."
"Prom is different for everybody, I guess," observed senior Laura Perham, 18. "Some people want to make it a big romantic night and some people just want to hang out with friends. I'm going to hang out with friends and have some good, clean fun."
She, too, would like to party all night long, but that might not happen. "It all depends on when my date's dad wants him home," she said with a laugh.
Another senior, Morgan Boyes, 17, is definitely planning on an all-night bash. She wouldn't mind throwing some hearts and flowers or even a little excitement into the mix, but she's not holding her breath.
"I'm going with my boyfriend," Boyes said. "It probably won't be a romantic night because we've been together for so long. He's been to prom like six times, so it's not that big a deal to him. It doesn't really matter to me ... I'm not really looking forward to much that night. But I am looking forward to seeing the pictures afterward."
Keeping prom night safe and sane is on the minds of all these students but certainly not to any party-pooping point.
"I'm going to use good judgment but have fun," said soon-to-graduate Glori Olsson, 18, who's going to make her entrance on the arm of her boyfriend.
"I hope it will be romantic, because we've never done anything like this," she said. "He's older, so he's not excited about it ..."
Samantha Ellsworth is younger she's a 17-year-old junior and she's not excited about it, either. That may be due to the fact that she is one of the event's primary coordinators.
"Right now, I'm hating prom night," Ellsworth said, only half-kidding. "I'm stressing out. I just want to get it over with. I'm really short on help. But we're having a meeting today, and hopefully people will come and help me."
So far, the most difficult elements of assembling the PHS prom, she said, have been the stage backdrop and decorations.
"When I ordered it out of the catalog, it was beautiful. But it came to me in so many different pieces. I've been putting that together every night."
Once that task has been completed, she admited, "I know I'll start getting excited. I'm moving next year and this will be my last chance to get together with all my friends. It'll be really fun."
Really fun, that is, provided Ellsworth survives her worst fear: "That everyone will hate the prom and point their fingers at me."