Proms Bring Magical Memories, Mishaps

Not everyone can say they took a future first lady to the senior prom.

But David Upchurch, a customer sales representative from Colorado, took Michelle Obama to their prom at Whitney M. Young High School in Chicago in 1984.

A friend of her brother, Upchurch dated the former Michelle Robinson for a year before she went off to Princeton and Harvard universities and went on to meet her presidential prince.

He won't reveal if he ever gave her a good night kiss, but Upchurch told London's Daily Mail newspaper that even then, he knew she was "special."

Why is it that the high school prom looms so large in the memory and even decades later one can recall that night of magic -- or mishaps?

"Proms are an absolutely critical time in people's lives," said Dr. Judy Kurianski, an adjunct professor at Columbia University's Teachers College. "It's a time of transitioning from boyhood to manhood and from girlhood to womanhood."

"It's a stage in your life when you first figure out how attractive you are as a person, your dating eligibility and what your worth is," she told ABCNews.com. "That's why it gets stuck in your craw. We carry those crushes on through life."

King and Queen Become Husband and Wife

Such was the case with Jon and Carol Tomson, both 60, who were the king and queen of their Rochester, N.Y., prom. They met just before the junior prom and that date -- April 10 -- has more significance than their wedding anniversary.

"Jon had broken up with his girlfriend and he and a friend sat down with the yearbook and thought I'd be a good candidate for the junior prom," said Carol Tomson, who works in public affairs for a New Jersey company.

Tomson remembers picking out a black cocktail dress and fish-net stockings, rather than the pastels her classmates had chosen. She forgot the boutonniere, but got the man. "It certainly clicked," she said.

The couple went on to different colleges, then graduate schools and dated others, but eventually married and had two children.

"Prom represents the big dance, the big event and the big date," said Tomson. "You went to the high school gym and it was transformed with crepe paper and exotic dresses."

Prom, the magical night when girls and boys don gowns and tuxedos for a fairytale-like rite of passage, has been immortalized in top-grossing movies: from the 1976 horror classic, "Carrie" to the 1986 sentimental favorite, "Pretty in Pink."

Proms Date to 1880s

Proms, which derive their name from "promenade," have been around since the 1880s, according to Prettyfor Prom.com.

The first ones were held at the elite Northeast colleges where parents saw them as a way to teach social etiquette. They were simple affairs, but with the arrival of cars in the 1920s and 1930s, teens gained more freedom and access to luxury items.

First mentioned in high school yearbooks in the 1930s and 1940s, proms evolved into more formal dances in the 1950s. Today, they are all-night affairs with stretch hummers, expensive hairdressing appointments, pre-prom dinners and after-event activities.

Socially, prom is a climactic point in senior year where relationships either blossom, as was the case with the Tomsons, or wither.

Remembering the senior prom can be like uncovering rocks, never knowing what memories will crawl out.

"When things go well, a teen's self-esteem is affirmed, but when they don't, teens can be vulnerable to self-criticism," said Kuriansky. "Why years later do we remember and either try to repeat the time when we were a success or repair a time when we were unsuccessful?"

'Worst Experience of My Life'

For Debby Kusich, the prom was "the worst experience of my life."

The 56-year-old saleswoman from Sebastapol, Calif., was "devastated" when she couldn't get a date, but eventually found a boy who worked on a farm, smelled like chickens and had bad teeth."

"I had my hair all done up in French curls and he didn't even have a good suit," said Kusich. "But I ended up ditching him."

The next day, Kusich got her just rewards. She was sunburned at the beach and woke up the following day covered with mouth sores.

Amy Spiegel, a 50-year-old who works for a New York City insurance company, said her memory still stings: "I was all dressed up and the guy stands me up."

Samantha Ganop, a 26-year-old cruise ship hostess from New Jersey, missed the bus to her prom. "I got left behind and my friend found me outside crying in the rain in my gown."

But some prom disappointments turn sweet.

Kris Eschauzier, a 58-year-old retired grandmother from Portland, Maine, was not allowed to take her boyfriend Pete to the prom at her all-girls boarding school, where only students from the "brother" school were allowed.

Prom Fashion Fiascos

"I asked for special compensation and of course they said, 'absolutely no," said Eschauzier. "I was mad and I remember being so upset. "

A friend offered to go with her, then secured a date. "I went off for the weekend in a huff."

When she returned to school --as was the post-prom tradition -- the underclass girls added insult to injury, "short-sheeting" her bed.

"But it was worth missing the prom," said Eschauzier, who has now been married to Pete for 38 years.

Jeanne Pierce, a computer executive from Shrewsbury, Mass., was injured twice at prom.

"I went to my prom with a black eye, only to get another one the following weekend at my boyfriend's prom," Pierce, 52, told ABCNews.com. "They were both caused by swinging doors in the girls' room."

"My black eye was recovering and I had to wear violet eye shadow and lots of pancake make-up, but it looked a lot better."

A girl with a crush on Pierce's boyfriend followed her into the ladies room.

Hit Twice With Swinging Doors

"I went into the stall and when I started to come out, the door swung back and hit me in the same eye and I had a black eye all over again," said Pierce.

That wasn't the only catastrophe. While sitting in folding chairs at long tables, a friend got up to leave and dragged Pierce's dress with the chair leg.

"When he dragged the chair, he dragged the bottom of my gown with it, only to tear the bottom, making it a full-length gown tea length."

And Leslie Fisher, 45, an Oakland, Calif., financial marketing specialist, also had a fashion fiasco.

"I got home from the prom before my parents and didn't have a key to the house and had to climb through the kitchen window and snagged my prom gown which was borrowed my mom's friend and she had to pay her for it," she wrote ABCnews.com in an e-mail. "I know, pitiful huh?"

Disasters aside, fashion is still king at the prom, according to Casey Lewis, the prom expert at About.com. Even in a recession economy, teens are spending hundreds of dollars on dresses, tuxedos, hair-dos, nails, corsages and other accessories.

"People are still laying down money, even parents who've lost jobs," she said.

"It's a big deal because of the tradition," Casey told ABCNews.com. "Your parents went to prom and talk about it, your grandparents reminisce. The expectations are really high."

But some things have changed, according to Casey. "You can go with your girlfriends or your guy best friend," she said.

Such was the case with Victoria Najjar, who works for a California pharmaceutical company. She and three girlfriends found themselves dateless for the San Carlos High School prom in 2003.

"The four of us ended up on the dance floor with everyone else's dates," the 24-year-old from San Carlos told ABCNews.com. They all wanted to dance with us because we were having so much fun together."

"We thought we would have a better time going with friends, rather than trying to babysit a date," she said.

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