In the Wake of the Florida Massacre, America Needs More Grandparents' Proms

Posted: Feb 20, 2018 5:00 PM

"You want me to go where?" I asked my wife. 

"Grandparents' Prom," she replied. 

 "Ughhhhh," I muttered to myself.

My wife, a teacher, is the faculty sponsor of a student leadership/service group that "emphasizes school, community, nation, and world." Every year, among the other school activities and community outreach programs, they host Grandparents' Prom. 

Honestly, if you gave me a list of 100 things to do, going to Grandparents' Prom sounded like something that would fall somewhere between cleaning out the gutters and picking up dog poop in the backyard. For starters, I don't dance. I shouldn't dance. No one wants to see that. Trust me.

"What on earth is Grandparents' Prom?" I asked. 

"It's what it sounds like. They have been doing this for years. It's a school tradition," she replied. 

I really didn't have an excuse. The next day was a holiday. It's still winter, and there wasn't much I could do outside in the dark. Plus, once in a very great while, I try to do things to support my wife. Rarely do either of us see what the other does at work. Outside of our home life, we live in two completely different worlds.

To set the scene, my wife teaches at a small school in rural America. The average class has about a dozen students or so. By that, I mean there are around 12 students in the entire grade. My wife teaches social studies to all six grade levels. The same goes for the math teacher, the English teacher, and so on. 

The prom was held in the school's old gym. On one side, a band played on a stage the length of the basketball court. The remaining space might have seated 50 people back in the day; if it was standing room only, perhaps you could cram in a 100. The boundary for the basketball court was an inch or two inside the brick walls, and the "top of the circle" touched the center court circle. It harkened me back to days long gone where the worst problems were kids chewing gum and dealing with parents who did not want them listening to Elvis.

When I think about how America once was, I ponder the innocence that existed in gyms like this one. It is reminiscent of "Andy Griffith" or "Leave it to Beaver." No one ever feared someone shooting up the school or being assaulted in class. And yes, kids had guns on racks in unlocked pickup trucks in the parking lot. They brought them into school and showed them to their friends. They made new stocks for them in shop class. No one gave a thought to taking one into the school and killing their classmates.

But back to Grandparents' Prom. There were several things that stood out to me at the event aside from the sensation that I was walking back in time. The first was when I observed the kids asking the older attendees to dance. In the vast majority of cases, the kids were asking someone to dance who was not related to them in any way. They were engaging with total strangers who were many years older. They did this on their own, without being forced to by an adult. It was a sight to see. To witness a cute young lady dancing with a gentleman five times her age and seeing the smile on both their faces was truly heartwarming. 

They didn't have a perfect record, but the kids rarely looked at their phones. Maybe it was because they were engaging their guests in conversation, serving them food and drinks, dancing with them, working in the kitchen, or helping the elderly attendees get around the building. It is not a difficult observation to make that when someone focuses on serving others, they are not obsessed with themselves.

At the event, I noticed one student was wearing a radio. My wife informed me that he is a volunteer firefighter. I learned that he was one of the first on the scene at a recent fatal car wreck and fought a fire this weekend that claimed the lives of two people. He is a senior in high school. Think about that, and imagine the responsibility. I noticed another young man playing the violin and singing with the band where the next oldest person was two-and-a-half times his age. These are kids who aren't shooting up schools. They're too busy serving their fellow man.

At the end of the night, I watched the kids escort their guests out and thank them for coming. They helped the band break down their equipment and load it into their vehicles. They tore down the decorations, cleaned the kitchen, and picked up the trash. One young lady in a nice dress and bare feet swept every inch of the gym floor. It wasn't the custodian or my wife who cleaned up the mess, it was the children. And not once did anyone bark at these kids to do anything. They did it on their own.

After I took out the trash, helped load the car, shut off the lights, and checked the doors, I drove home with a renewed hope for the future of this great nation.

My faith in the country's direction has been shaken lately, but there is no doubt in my mind what it will take to restore it. On the ride home, I contemplated what I had witnessed, contrasting that with the horrific events that transpired the same week at another school in Florida. 

I don't know all the answers, but I know at least one solution starts with serving one another. It starts with getting our noses out of our phones and having a conversation. It starts with leaving our comfort zones and asking a stranger to dance. It starts with being responsible for great things at an early age. It starts with grabbing a broom and sweeping our collective gym floors. It starts with encouraging our kids to do the right thing when no one is looking. It starts with us.

In a world where we are bombarded with mayhem, violence, discord, and dysfunction 24/7, perhaps we need more Grandparents' Proms.