The 2009 Prom Draw at Aquin High School.

Slightly Off Topic: School Assigns Random Prom Dates

Hi all! This krfzkneesh
was sent in with a note I sort of agree with: A school in Illinois is randomly assigning prom dates, thus removing the anxiety of asking/not-getting-asked. So, wrote the note-sender, isn’t that assuming young people lack even the basic social and emotional resilience to deal with the time-honored ritual?

Well, yes, perhaps. But the tradition at this school began in 1926, so it’s not some newfangled coddling. And while of course kids can handle some embarrassment and disappointment, Free-Range figures there’s enough to go around even without this one particular hurdle. And there’s something about rising to this particular occasion — being attentive to whomever you’re assigned — that strikes me as requiring maturity as well.

Of course I don’t want gay students to have to play “straight” for the event, but provided no one is forced into this pool, I find it charming. I’m just not sure why.

Is it the romantic comedy fan in me, who can just see the prom reunion 25 years later, with the least likely couples still happily married, their children rolling their eyes at being assigned each other? Is it the inveterate party thrower in me, always eager to introduce new people and watch them share a laugh? Or is it the high school student still deep down there in there (sigh), who skipped the prom — no boyfriend, no big interest in the prom, and no tradition, yet, of kids attending date-less — happy to see an alternative?

Truth is, I’m not sure. But I thought we could chew on this one today. Voila:

This is Aquin’s 91st prom draw. Here’s how it works: the boys drew the names of girls at random in the library while the girls waited for them in the gym.

Then the boys came out and performed a skit before they revealed who their date is. It’s a tradition, the school says, is about bonding with classmates.

“I think most people are in disbelief and a lot of people say they would hate it,” Junior Class Adviser Michelle Gallagher said. “But I think after they kind of hear the rest of the story and hear what goes into it I think a lot of people are actually intrigued by it. It’s less of a date and more like something fun to do with your

On Youtube I found this 2009 video of the prom draw, watched it, and am still smiling. There’s something uplifting about the idea of everyone sharing an experience together. Simple as that. – L.



Student waiting to hear the name of his date at the Aquin High School Prom Draw  (2009).


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36 Responses to Slightly Off Topic: School Assigns Random Prom Dates

  1. Rachael March 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

    I think that’s awesome! What a way to get students interacting and break down cliques! Makes me wonder if they have much of a bullying issue…

  2. Gina March 21, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

    I think kids should have the choice whether or not to participate. This way, nobody gets left out of prom, but couples who have been together for years and are really looking forward to prom can still go together. The best of both worlds. I would have been sad had I not been able to go to prom with my boyfriend.

  3. Workshop March 21, 2017 at 12:17 pm #

    I see the appeal to ritual, and the fun that a bonding exercise can create.

    Personally, I see it more like the Secret Santa thing where everyone who wants to participate draws a name. Does that tradition mean that we are incapable of understanding the process of gift-giving?

    Note that I did not attend my school’s prom, nor do I participate in Secret Santas.

    But the skit obviously involves Star Wars (the Chewbacca costume gave it away), and possibly something Monty Python-esque (based on the other costumes). So I’m in favor of it.

  4. LauraL March 21, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    Maybe if it wasn’t PROM – for most. a once-in-a-lifetime event, but some other dance party. If the students are into it, then good for them! But I wouldn’t have liked it. I would have wanted to attend with my boyfriend and not watch him off with some other girl.

  5. Fred March 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    Cute, assuming it is voluntary., but “coupling’ should not be the only option. While it is unlikely anyone would want to go alone, it is also not unheard of that small coed groups agree to go together without the “pairing up” being obligatory. It should be about classmates having a fun time without the requirement of having “a date.”

  6. Christopher Byrne March 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    I think this is wonderful. It’s about something larger–bonding with the class as a whole, interaction, minimizing the sometimes onerous pressures (and expenses) attendant on proms. I was in a class of 48, and we opted to do community service as a class instead of having a prom, spending the money on our community instead where it was needed more than us having a party. We had plenty of time to celebrate, be in couples, etc. but continuing our bonding experience as a class was amazing. Decades later, many of us are still close and in regular contact.

  7. Nicole March 21, 2017 at 12:31 pm #

    Since this what the school has always done the kids don’t know any other prom- so it probably isn’t as big of a deal as people think.

  8. Mark Roulo March 21, 2017 at 12:35 pm #

    Assuming that I have found the correct Aquin High school … it is a small (111 students spread out over four grades), private, Catholic high school in Illinois. The graduating class is probably around 25-30.

  9. SKL March 21, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    Interesting – my first reaction was to hate this, but more for the stated reason than the effect.

    In the past, young people had to learn to interact with people they didn’t “choose” and even dance with people they didn’t “like.” People also “politely dated” more individuals before pairing off in a more serious way. I’m sure some good things were learned. Now kids don’t even have to look at other humans the majority of the time, let alone dance with them. And most Americans consider this a good thing. “Nobody should be allowed to touch a child without his permission” etc.

    I dunno. As an extreme introvert who had been improperly touched as a kid, I didn’t want to go to any dance, and so I didn’t. I was glad that we were past the days when we “had” to do such things. On the other hand, probably being forced to do it while young (with someone I didn’t actually “care” about) would have helped me get over some of the awkwardness. Or maybe it would have just been torture, but I would have lived through it, and that’s something too. 😛

    My kids are 10yo and we will be entering the “school dance” age soon. One of my kids will probably be in Heaven. The other one might feel like she’s in Hell, or just skip it like I did. The song “I Hope you Dance” comes to mind … but I probably won’t push it. Who knows, maybe some cute boy will ask her, LOL.

  10. Ellen Mauer March 21, 2017 at 1:10 pm #

    There is no way a public school could do this without being challenged.

  11. elizabeth March 21, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    Psh. I went to my junior prom alone because my boyfriend’s mom wouldnt let him. “Youre too young just because youre not a juinor until next year even though you’re sixteen.” Even if my school had done that, id have abandoned my assigned “partner” and sought out my boyfriend and pulled him from his assigned “partner”.

  12. Anna March 21, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    “Maybe if it wasn’t PROM – for most. a once-in-a-lifetime event, but some other dance party.”

    I suspect that’s a big part of the point: to downgrade the ridiculous “Oh my Gosh, it’s PROM!!!!” nonsense, with its attending inflated expectations, whether romantic, financial, or otherwise. As a Canadian (we don’t do the whole PROM!!!! thing, or at least didn’t in my day in my hometown), that seems like a great thing to me.

  13. Cyn March 21, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    I think males doing the draw one year and females the next might be a good modification.

  14. C. S. P. Schofield March 21, 2017 at 2:16 pm #

    I went to an all boys prep school, and was a late bloomer besides, so I don’t know about this from firsthand experience (I did OK; married for more than 30 years). That said, If this causes some teenaged angst, well, why should it be different from every other aspect of high school life? I think it would cut down on some problems, and if it’s been going on for almost a century, I expect it works OK.

  15. Kirsten March 21, 2017 at 2:31 pm #

    As long as one is not forced to participate and it’s a school tradition, there’s nothing wrong with this. I am sure that freshmen would hear about the tradition as soon as they started at the High School and wouldn’t have any false expectations of some other kind of prom.

    As someone who was often forced together with boys I did not like at various school functions, my initial reaction was to recoil from this, but if I were there I just wouldn’t participate. There were many occasions at school where we had to pair up for various reasons, sometimes because a particular boy and I were the tallest of our respective gender, one time because a teacher randomly decided that I had to square dance with a particular boy who was actually sort of stalking me at school, following me and whispering obscene things, because someone had to start the dancing so they’ll force Boy X to dance with Girl Y.

  16. Stacey March 21, 2017 at 2:45 pm #

    When I first read the headline I thought it meant that they would hold it on a random calendar date….I couldn’t understand why that was a big deal.
    In general though, proms, back in the day, were practice for how to conduct one’s self in formal occasions. Many people married after high school, so proms were merely a dress rehearsal (hence the court, which is akin to having bridesmaids/groomsmen) for weddings. Pretty much no purpose to them now, other than the fact that an entire industry has been created in which folks can waste money for no particular reason other than a photo op.

  17. Papilio March 21, 2017 at 2:49 pm #

    As long as there’s a way to avoid bullies, or for many kids one anxiety just replaces another.

  18. Backroads March 21, 2017 at 3:02 pm #

    I think that sounds like a lot of fun!

  19. Lila York March 21, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    Unless they also plan on assigning mates and spouses I think they should stay out of it

  20. Deb March 21, 2017 at 3:16 pm #

    It can clearly be both? They want everyone to have a good time and not feel left out, clearly this is coddling, micromanaging and all these things we are not supposed to like. But it’s one prom, it’s not like we are chosen boyfriends and girlfriends for them.

  21. Aaron March 21, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    The fact that this started in 1926 makes this story completely different from what I expected. This has a feel of tradition and ritual and it appears like the kids are having tons of fun with it. Unfortunately, as readers here know, today the motivation would be to over protect kids from conflict at the very time when they are in the safest position to deal with tension and conflict.


    It might only work today if we figure out time travel…

  22. Backroads March 21, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    I admit, my first reaction was to rip this apart and find every ugly what-if scenario. But… that defeats the free range purpose. It truly sounds like a fun local tradition and nothing more.

  23. Aimee March 21, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

    My initial reaction was “Ugh? Gay kids would be forced to go with a straight date?” Lenore (kind of) addressed that, but I think that at a Catholic high school in the Midwest, LGBT students would be forbidden from attending Prom together anyway (when I attended a large Catholic university in the Midwest in the 90s, the LGBT student organization was not even formally recognized by the administration. For all I know, they still aren’t).

    Anyway, I like the idea of a “dance card” approach, myself…..

  24. lollipoplover March 21, 2017 at 4:11 pm #

    Slightly off topic…but WHAT are these students wearing during the drawing of random names in this picture?!
    I see the one kid dressed as Chewbacca and the other perhaps a bunch of grapes??
    Either way….LOVE it!

    The title of the article kind of had me annoyed but this looks like a very fun tradition for a very small school!
    We have a very large high school and I have no idea if something like this would work…they mostly travel to these dances in large groups anyway. My son went with a large group and my daughter (only in middle school) went with a pack of girls…no dates.

  25. Lori March 21, 2017 at 4:38 pm #

    Mark is correct, this is a small Catholic school in Northern Illinois (my high school used to play them in football playoffs). In the 80s, when I interacted with them, their students were always a great bunch of kids.

    I think it’s a great event, eliminating the drama present at most proms. And for what it’s worth, my 15yo daughter asked me what I was watching, and when I told her she said “That’s great! If our school did that I would totally go.” Granted, she attends a high school of 1000+, so the logistics would be a nightmare.

  26. theresa March 21, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    Even though I’m not sure choosing someone date for them is good idea. I’m sure that dress code police will there ready to check out the kids clothes on what should be a fun time not a fashion show for adults. If you as adults can’t take seeing backs or knees or even the horror shoulders then I think you stay far away before you act inappropriately around the students!

  27. Florence March 21, 2017 at 6:58 pm #

    I don’t know the policy now, but I do know someone who graduated from there. It is voluntary and most people liked it. It is a very small town with a tradition.

  28. Joanne March 21, 2017 at 8:47 pm #

    Nicole, I respectfully disagree – despite whatever longstanding tradition this School may hold, students would be challenged not to know any other prom with TV & the internet

    To me, this is “every kid gets a trophy” behavior – not everyone wins or gets chosen – being able to deal with such situations is a life skill – students who weren’t asked to Prom back-in-the-day attended with a group of friends/stag (except, obviously, at this particular School) – having a date, chosen or “assigned”, is not the only way to go to Prom

    LauraL, I agree – To each their own but for me, I feel it’s a buzz-kill on Prom – for a regular dance or social, whatever, but anyone who has ever been to Prom or has teen girls who have been to Prom knows how much time, effort, emotion & $$$ can be & often is invested in Prom – sorry, I vote thumbs-down on this one

    I would question how this affects LGBTQ students, but I’m unsure if there would be many students identifying this way at a small Catholic School – Catholic beliefs wouldn’t seem to be the most comfortable to contend with as far as sexuality for this population – unfortunately, religious institutions are not held to the same standard as far as tolerance & parity

  29. SKL March 21, 2017 at 10:42 pm #

    As far as the LGBTetc issue, it’s not unthinkable that people can dance with a person of the opposite sex even though s/he is attracted to people of the same sex. Actually if you go to ballroom dance competitions, a high % of the men are gay. In fact I think my sister’s prom date might have been a gay guy. So, I don’t think that needs to be an issue unless people want to make a stink. Dancing is a social activity, not a sexual one.

  30. Mr. Gabel March 21, 2017 at 11:25 pm #

    I teach at this high school, and the tradition was actually started by the student body 90ish years ago. They did it so they could include some local orphans in the prom & that they all had dates. It was living out Christ’s love for “the least of these.” Each year the student body votes to continue the tradition, & students are not forced to attend. While they do have specific “dates,” the entire junior & senior classes go out to dinner together & they spend time with their actual boy/girlfriends at the dance. It truly is a great tradition. Here is the link for the info on the tradition.

  31. lollipoplover March 22, 2017 at 5:09 am #

    @Mr. Gabel-
    Thank you for the insight. What a unique and amazing tradition! Sounds like a great group of kids (and teaching staff) upholding a fun and as on student said, “intriguing” custom that makes the prom fun for everyone.

  32. Katie G March 22, 2017 at 6:37 am #

    How surprising, that the part about its bein g something that the grandparents and even great-grandparents of the current kids did, was left out of initial stories….

  33. Papilio March 22, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

    “As far as the LGBTetc issue, it’s not unthinkable that people can dance with a person of the opposite sex even though s/he is attracted to people of the same sex.”

    “Dancing is a social activity, not a sexual one.”

    But if dancing is not sexual anyway, then there’s no reason to make couples’ genders a problem either way.

  34. SteveS March 22, 2017 at 6:40 pm #

    Sounds like everyone involved seems to like it. Good for them.

  35. Michelle March 23, 2017 at 10:04 am #

    If it’s voluntary, and the kids are having fun, then it sounds great. As an extrovert with Social Anxiety Disorder, I can’t decide if this would be my worst nightmare or actually help me meet some people and have fun. (My best friends have always been the people with very strong, outgoing personalities who just wouldn’t let me not talk to them.)

    However, this exact practice was one of the (many) reasons my kids refused to join our homeschool group’s teen group. It wasn’t done in a spirit of fun and getting to know each other, but of parents trying to micromanage every single minute aspect of their teens’ experiences, including who they were matched with at the year-end formal. (There were also VERY strict dress codes — at the informational meeting the speaker pointed out a mom in the audience as an example of what was not allowed! — strict rules about how to RSVP to events, rules about how teens could get to and from events, required etiquette classes, and an absolute prohibition against dating, period. And it wasn’t enough for some parents. There were moms refusing to sign the release forms allowing chaperones to seek medical care for the kids in case of an emergency, because what if said chaperone takes my precious snowflake to the doctor and gets them vaccinated or something!!)

  36. Travis March 26, 2017 at 12:07 am #

    If the kids are up for it, then it’s a great idea. It does make it so more people get out of their bubble and talk with someone they maybe never would have thought they’d like…

    I do have questions that I don’t think are explained in the article, though. For example, is every girl’s name just thrown into the box? What if one of the kids doesn’t want to participate? or if they’re not even numbers?

    I for one denied going to prom at all, but if I had been forced to, I wouldn’t have appreciated not being able to be with one of my friends or as a group.