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One ritual that has become synonymous with coming of age has been the senior prom. Closely preceding the graduation ceremonies of many high schools, or following closely behind graduation events, the senior prom (also known as the senior formal or the spring formal) is an opportunity for youth to celebrate the entrance into the world of adulthood with a splash of color and formality. However, there is far more behind the social event than may be initially noticed. Formal.

What is formal? Formal means to present one’s self to others in a way which is ‘with form’, with shape, polite, inoffensive and dignified. We see the example of a formal letter, it uses proper grammar and sentence structure in order to be respectful, while simultaneously serving a purpose or getting an important message across.

In our society, what is formal? Very little. On average, clothing, language, behavior – all is very informal. Individuals who are formal (polite, inoffensive, organized) in their daily dealings with people ore often looked upon as square or boring. Yet we see that in certain situations, individuals play with the concept of formality not truly to implement respectfulness and order but because it becomes fashionable to do so. While behavior surrounding a prom may seem, on the surface, like a fun opportunity to behave formally it is actually a flowery version of Halloween.

On the occasion of the spring formal we see blossoming youth taking on the formalities of what is perceived as ‘adult’. Fine dress, (most who attend the senior prom rent expensive tuxedoes or purchase high quality suits or gowns for the occasion) elaborate beautification (spending hours in front of a mirror or at a hair salon in order to look just right) frivolous toys (Stretch limousines line the streets outside of dance halls on the night of the prom) all become synonymous with being an adult. In many ways, adults in society should examine their own behavior for wrongly displaying these types of objects as being ‘adult’ to younger people.

In our society we have a very misconstrued idea of what adulthood actually is. It has always been my understanding that adulthood and maturity are not based upon one’s ability to hold a cigarette in a certain way, tie a bow tie, tease one’s hair or hang out of a limousine sun roof . Adulthood comes with understanding of one’s place in the universe, it comes with the knowledge of how to interact with our fellow human beings, it comes with the ability to take responsibility for one’s own actions – whether good or bad.

There is great confusion in society putting such emphasis on acquiring wealth and prestige over acquiring a feeling understanding of true responsibility.

The idea of wasting parent’s money or money earned through weekend work, on a night of preening is disgusting. To dress up and put one’s self on display in a sort of inner-school fashion show seemed degrading.

It is disgusting to see peers who normally behaved rudely in class or to their friends, making big plans to put on a cummerbund in a pseudo attempt to be ‘adult’. On one hand behaving romantic and polite, planning to buy a corsage for their date, and on the other hand also planning to smuggle alcohol into the event then rent a hotel room for an opportunity to dishonor their date.

Adulthood, I felt, was not to come with irresponsibility and excessive waste. It is not synonymous with loud music and dancing.