My wife teaches high school. She had the misfortune of being assigned to chaperone this year’s prom. In a moment that can only be described as moronic — and one I do not recall — I agreed to accompany her.

Having spent the first 20 years of my career in secondary and post-secondary education, I have been to a lot of proms. In the 10 years that have elapsed since my last, my first observation is that a great deal has changed — most of it for the better.

Let me start with the attire. The obligatory tuxedo is gone. There was a refreshing display of personal style and taste by the young men. Likewise, the formal, long, often poorly chosen dress was absent, replaced by as many expressions of individuality as were young women in attendance.

Missing, too, were the well-defined, contentious lines of who was at the prom with whom. Many of the kids in attendance were either there unattached or with a large group of friends. It was, in the best sense, a community event.

There was, in deference to all of my previous experience, a level of tolerance and acceptance I have not experienced in my many prom adventures as a teacher, administrator and principal. I think every kid was actually happy to be there and left happy, too.

There was also no inhibition on the part of any of the kids to eat well and often. The young men and women alike were thrilled to discover dinner was an “all you can eat” buffet. They attacked it with abandon with little thought as to how portions might be perceived by their dates or others.

During dinner I wandered to the “bar” to fetch my wife a Coke and me a 7-Up. Imagine my surprise and delight when the 6-foot-tall, 250-pound football player in line ahead of me ordered two Shirley Temples. Innocence is not lost.

Here, I reluctantly turn to my one, potentially negative observation. After dinner, the dancing started. It has been 10 years, and a lot has changed. That said, I refuse to be the voice of “this generation is going to …”

Let me say this then. To the young women who are pressing their back sides into the boys they are dancing with, “Turn around, at least for a moment, and let the boy behind you know he is dancing with a person, not a body.” To the young men I say, “She is not a thing. Please do not treat her as an object.”

In the midst of this distraction. there were large groups of friends dancing with abandon. The music was better than at any dance I have ever attended. Overall, my experience was overwhelmingly positive.

The table conversations were inspiring. The topics ranged from genetic engineering to the validity of religion, taking place at a level far above those at my own prom. Our young people are brilliant. My faith in our future is affirmed.

Toward the end of the evening, the prom king and queen were crowned. They were not stereotypical, but rather, refreshingly unique. The queen was a quiet, sweet girl. The king was a kind, gentle athlete and entrepreneur.

Interestingly, I did not sense any unrealistic expectations or empty hopes that this was anything more than a special, final dance to honor an impending transition into adulthood. This, they know, is not the perfect night or one of the best experiences of their lives. They are far too savvy for that.

From this observer, I look forward to their future, to handing over the reins, and to living in the bright and hopeful destiny reflected in their eyes and virtue.

— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and serves as chief operating officer for Surgical Eye Expeditions (SEE) International. He can be reached at for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.