Senior Pranava Raparla, 18, waited two years to unveil his plans.
On May 2, a seemingly routine fire drill at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology alerted students that Raparla’s plans were about to be revealed.
“My first reaction was, ‘Why is everyone running outside so fast for a fire drill?’” said fellow senior Priya Krishnan, the target of Raparla’s plot.
Fire drills, which are staged intermittently throughout the year in each school, normally are organized affairs that disperse students in groups at points all around the exterior of their school.
For this reason, the hectic feel and singular flow of student traffic toward the front of the school, raised Krishnan’s eyebrows.
“I thought it might be a real fire,” she said.
In reality, TJ students were in a rush to beat Raparla out the door for the surprise waiting just outside.
What greeted the teen was a flash dance mob of about 1,000 fellow high school students led by Raparla performing a routine to “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen, a teen-pop ballad.
A sign hanging off the roof of the high school read “PRIYA, PROM?” in big letters. And after the dance ended, Raparla —armed with a bouquet of flowers — asked his date to prom, set for June 9.
“I wanted something big and as unique as she is,” said Raparla, who organized the event through Facebook and staged a rehearsal during lunch. “I first came up with the idea sophomore year. … I got permission from the security office, all the administrators and the principal to have a flash mob during a fire drill. It was a lot of work, but it turned out well.”
During the spring months, “promposal,” the elaborate and often crowd-drawing invitations to high school proms, become a near daily occurrence at area high schools, students said.
“Most seniors asking someone to prom do something unusual,” said Madison High School senior Harry Hild, 18. Madison’s prom is June 2. “The girl I asked is in student government. So, I wrote a fake email from the [student] newspaper to the student government. … I made up some issue to ask questions about and the last question was ‘Would you go to the prom with me?’ The student government teacher read it [aloud to the student government] … I was outside of the class listening.”
The goal is to make the prom experience more memorable, students said.
Oakton High School junior Chris Crapco, 17, certainly did that when he set up a fake homicide crime scene outside for his prom date to uncover. Chalk footprints led up to a friend’s home driveway, revealing a body-chalk outline and a sign that read, “I’m DYING to go to prom with you Lauren! Love, Chris.”
“I wasn’t worried about receiving a ‘no’ from Lauren because I already had heard that Lauren was going to ask me,” Crapco said.
Those popping the question — well, the high school version — say the more public and elaborate the asking, the less likely the rejection.
When asking out his prom date, Annandale senior CJ Aftergut, 17, did not include no as an option. He set up an online poll on the student newspaper’s website asking, “Should Betsy Kruse [a junior] attend Prom with CJ Aftergut?”
Options “most definitely” received 52 percent of the vote; “Yes” gained 30 percent; “of course” 9 percent and “duhhh” another 9 percent. There was no margin for error.
However, not all of the elaborate and well planned prom invites this year have gone smoothly.
Annandale senior A.J. McCafferty, 18, said when he tried to ask his girlfriend — fellow senior Nikki Contrino, 18 — to the school’s May 25 prom, she sent him back to the drawing board with a big “NO.”
McCafferty then tried on two occasions to garner a winning response from Contrino.
“I ruined them both by accident,” she said. “The first time, I canceled our date to go out with my friends. The second time, he was going to have a cop pull us over and cuff him.”
In this scenario, McCafferty had planned for a law enforcement officer to search the car, revealing the true contraband — a trunk full of flowers and a formal invite. However, Contrino was running late that day, and the couple missed their window of prom-portunity.
Tension between the couple began to rise with McCafferty’s irritation.
Then Contrino took matters into her own hands, asking McCafferty through a video broadcasted on the school’s morning announcements.
“We have a girl in our school named A.J. too, so I thought of this as being for her,” McCafferty said. “I was really surprised. Shocked actually. After all that happened, it kind of eased some tension between us because I was kind of mad that it’d gone so wrong.”
Although McCafferty and Contrino already were a couple, many of those choosing the public option said they were friends with their would-be-dates.
“I don’t think anyone has been turned down, but there have been fallouts before the prom,” said Annandale junior Colleen Adenan, 16. “TV shows and movies have been making a big deal about prom. I think a girl will feel more pressure to say yes if it’s done publicly.”
Madison High School senior Jack McMinimy, 18, performed an a cappella arrangement with fellow students during a class he shared with his date, senior Emily Ragano, 18.
“She was a little embarrassed but I think happy about it,” McMinimy said. “I sort of had to step out of my comfort zone to do something like this.”
He said each year the bar is raised for the askers.
“You feel more obligated to do something unique … It’s maybe not more prevalent but there’s more pressure to do something.”
Fellow Madison senior Kristen Inglese, 18, said, “I feel kind of bad for the guys because back in the day you could just pop the question. But now they have to come up with a way to go all out.”
Senior Alex Russell, 18, agreed, saying, “It’s become kind of a tradition of who can ask in the most elaborate way.”
For the most part, teachers and school staff are willing to aid and accommodate students in their prom plots.
“The guy teachers are like ‘whatever.’ But the girl teachers think it’s really cute,” Contrino of Annandale said.
“Safety is always the top concern out our administrators,” Raparla said. “As long as that’s upheld, they’re very supporting.”
The unsaid rules of prom-posing are safety first, no bonfires, and students must stay off their school’s roof, students said. The last rule has been broken several times across the school system, students said, resulting in disciplinary action.
“It’s just like the last hurrah before college,” said Annandale junior Stephanie Allshout, 17.
The trend toward the elaborate is likely to continue on, students said.
“Prom is one of those things that you have to experience because it’s a memory that you will carry with you the rest of your life,” said Oakton junior Karli Gillespie, 16. “Every effort that goes into making this night special is appreciated. That’s why the extravagant promposals are so loved and adored …Knowing that someone has spent hours of their time just to ask a simple yes or no question proves how much you mean to that other person and are cared about whether that person is a boyfriend or just a friend.”