For many high school students, going to prom is a rite of passage and a highlight of the academic year. It’s a time they get to ignore school-work, dress up and have fun with their friends.
“Prom was something that I had looked forward to since middle school. The end of senior year is the most exciting time of high school because it’s our last few months with our friends before graduation and I was really excited to have all the special experiences that come with being a senior,” Senaida Ng from Toronto, Canada told the BBC.
But with social distancing in place due to the coronavirus outbreak, students in the US and Canada, like Senaida, are seeing their school cancel or postpone their prom.
“I bought my prom dress in grade 10 and had been waiting for the day I would wear it for my senior prom. I even planned a big promposal to ask a celebrity to prom,” the 17-year-old said. “I’m really sad that I’ll never get to do those things and even though I know I’m not the only one experiencing these disappointments, it’s still pretty sad.”
Isabella Domidion, from Kentucky, had also been planning for her school’s prom for some time.
“I was pretty upset about our prom being cancelled. This was supposed to be my senior prom, which everyone waits so long for.”
So like many teenagers at the moment, both high-schoolers took part in a virtual prom. Virtual proms take place on sites like Zoom, YouTube, Twitch and Tik Tok, which have featured numerous videos of people dressing in their planned outfits. The hashtag virtual prom has more than one million entries.
Before her virtual prom started, Isabella and her sister posed for pictures outside their house in their outfits, just as they would have for their school’s prom.
“We treated it just like we would if we were attending an in-person prom. A friend of mine started it and she invited several people. She played music the whole time and we even danced during the cha-cha-slide,” she said.
Senaida took part in a virtual prom which was so popular she couldn’t join the Zoom party.
“I think there were around 1,500-2,000 people watching. People started making their own Zoom chat rooms and so I joined a random one and ended up meeting a bunch of teenagers from around the world. We had a fun time talking and getting to know each other,” she said.
Virtual proms have become such a phenomenon that celebrities are even joining in to make sure high-schoolers don’t miss out on the prom experience.
Many high-schoolers are going through a stressful time. Some have had exams cancelled or delayed while others have had their graduations moved online.
Actor John Kraskinski hosted his own prom, telling viewers that they were “missing a whole lot of things and we couldn’t let prom be one of them”. He was joined by a host of celebrities such as Billie Eilish, Chance the Rapper and the Jonas Brothers.
Sophia Gannaoui lives in Florida where social distancing rules are in place. Her prom has been postponed until June or July but if social distancing rules don’t change, it’s unclear if it would be held after that.
She decided to take part in Krasinski’s prom and made a video of herself getting ready on her Youtube channel.
“I did a group call with two of my friends so we could watch it and talk to each other over it. It was pretty fun to experience because we’ve never experienced a virtual prom in that sense before,” she told the BBC.
Like others, she had planned her outfit for some time but was unable to buy her dress because the store was closed due to social distancing.
“I had my whole entire outfit planned from my dress to my nails and my hair and the make-up. The dress I used happened to be an old dress of my mother’s that I’ve always wanted to wear and I just thought I might as well put on a random dress that I haven’t worn in the past so it was a great excuse for me to go back into my closet and play dress-up.”
Sophia added that for some people a virtual prom is less daunting especially when it comes to the idea of dancing. She said her friends weren’t the type to dance but during the virtual prom, they seemed to have the confidence to give it a go.
“It was nice to see them break through that barrier and be able to be like that behind a computer screen, so it does have its conveniences when it comes to building up confidence.”
With the popularity of virtual proms rising and social distancing measures still in place for the time being, it seems that high-schoolers are likely to continue to mark their proms online. But is it worth it?
“It gave me something to look forward to, and a way to celebrate all the hard work from this year with all the people I love, all while practicing safe social distancing. It really was a blast!” Isabella said.