Although Caitlyn Cox, a senior at Braden River High School, is getting ready to graduate and jump toward adulthood, she's excited to have one more moment when she can feel like a little kid.
She will be dressing for her school's prom April 8 in a floor-length maroon dress with straps on the side of the shoulders and a slit on the right leg.
“It’s like when you’re a kid and you’re playing dress up all by yourself and you’re living in your imaginary world,” Cox said. “It feels like another chance at that, especially because the past few years we’ve had to mature so much.”
After two years of COVID-19 pandemic, Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools are able to host a prom once again. Lakewood Ranch’s prom is April 8 while Braden River’s is April 14.
“It’s like we’re rebuilding,” said Kennedy Lollar, a junior at Braden River High School. “We’re getting back to where we were. It’s hopeful. I guess we were stuck in the mindset that (the pandemic) was going to last forever. Everything was taking so long to get back to normal.
"It’s good we’re all getting back to a place where we can live our lives to the fullest again.”
Guests are allowed at the proms, so some students will bring graduates of the schools who didn't have an opportunity to attend their own proms because of the pandemic.
Emily Garcia, a senior at Braden River High School, is taking her boyfriend, Thomas Finn, to the prom.
“I don’t care too much for dances, but my boyfriend was a senior last year and he hadn’t gone to prom,” Garcia said. “He’s in college now, and I’m excited to take him."
Garcia asked Finn to the prom while they were at work at Starbucks.
“There’s these little green apron cards, and I write him love notes every now and then,” said Garcia, who used the apron card to spring the question.
Jayden O’Neal, a Braden River senior, surprised his girlfriend, Sarah Dipasquale, who also is a senior at Braden River, with his "promposal."
O’Neal went to Dipasquale’s house and, to coax her outside, told her he needed help getting things from his trunk. He asked her to get his shoes from the trunk, but instead of finding his shoes, she saw flowers and a sign asking her to the prom.
His sign read, “I couldn’t weight. It would lift me if you gave me a spot at prom,” referencing the time the couple spends at the gym together.
“I had no idea it was happening, and it was really cute,” Dipasquale said. “It was one of those moments I didn’t expect to happen because so many other fun high school things were canceled.”
Evan Dangler, a senior at Braden River High School, and his girlfriend, Haley Dragon, who also is a senior, met at homecoming their sophomore year. This year’s prom will be the first dance they’re able to attend together since they met.
When they found out prom was canceled last year, they decided to have their own prom.
“It was very special,” Dangler said. “We got all dressed up and went out to dinner and then we went to her house and had our own dance and spent the rest of the day together. … This year it will be special to celebrate with everyone there.”
Cassidee Calamaras, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, already has bought her dress and shown it to friends. However, her best friend, Julia Sammons, has yet to see it.
Calamaras and Sammons, who also is a senior at Lakewood Ranch, decided they would surprise each other at the prom. They have been friends since they were in sixth grade.
“It’s nice, especially because we are so close and we get to joke around like that,” Calamaras said. “We don’t get to dress up very often so I think it’s nice to see another side of both of us.”
Calamaras went to Ellenton Premium Outlets with her mom (Jimee Calamaras) to find her emerald green gown with gold accents and a six-layered skirt.
“It was a solidifying moment because we haven’t gone and done that before,” Calamaras said about dress shopping with her mom. “The last time we went dress shopping, it was just something kind of small and quick at Macy’s. Going to an actual store that focuses on dresses, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is actually happening.’”
Cox found her dress online.
“Waiting for it to come in the mail was such an experience because it came earlier than I expected, and I remember opening the package and being really excited,” Cox said. “I felt like a kid on Christmas.”
Kelsey McLeod, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, is borrowing a dress from a friend who graduated and wasn’t able to go to prom because of the pandemic. The dress is navy with silver sparkles and an open back.
“Honestly, I’m just happy someone gets to wear that dress because she didn’t get to wear it like how she dreamed,” McLeod said. “I’m not one that likes to go dress shopping, so having one already at my convenience was nice.”
For seniors, the prom is another signal their high school education is about to end.
“I’m not going to the same colleges as my friends, and I think this is going to be one of the last big things I do before we all go off to college,” Calamaras said. “It’s great to have that crowning moment.”