At high schools across the country, the prom has gone from being an adolescent rite of passage to an indicator of social status to, now, the kind of extravagant thing that can affect the Gross Domestic Product. Whereas, not too long ago, the expenses associated with attending the prom were the price of the tux or dress and a corsage, today they can exceed what some hardworking families earn in a year.
That’s why one courageous and morally serious Long Island principal said, “Enough already!”
The principal was Kenneth Hoagland of Kellenberg Memorial, a Catholic high school in Uniondale, New York. Hoagland, a brother in the Marianist order, was weary of the stories he heard about the Long Island school’s spring prom: “Students putting down $10,000 to rent a house in the Hamptons for a weekend bash . . . Fathers chartering a boat so their kids could go out on a late-night ‘booze cruise.’”
What bothered Hoagland wasn’t only, or even primarily, the “sex, booze, and drugs.” It was the “the flaunting of affluence . . . a pursuit of vanity for vanity’s sake—in a word, financial decadence . . . ”
So, Hoagland took the almost unimaginable step: At the start of this school year, he wrote parents a 2,000-word letter informing them that Kellenberg would no longer “put on the spring prom.” Parents are free to continue to do as they please, but the school would have nothing to do with what he called an “orgy.”
As expected, students were dismayed by Hoagland’s decision, calling it—what else?—“unfair.” Only slightly less expected was the reaction of some parents. One parent told Associated Press that school officials don’t “have a right to judge what goes on after the prom . . . ”
Obviously, the entire point of sending kids to a Catholic, rather than public, high school is lost on this parent.
Fortunately, it isn’t lost on Hoagland. His actions are a reminder of two basic, if often-forgotten, truths: First, adults are supposed to set limits on kids. This is especially vital in our culture where most of the time teenagers function within an essentially adult-free subculture.