CAPITAL REGION — In the next few weeks, high school students are supposed to be enjoying prom, one of the most anticipated celebrations of their high school careers.
However, with schools closed until at least April 29 and the state-mandated ban on large gatherings, many high school seniors are facing the prospect of missing that milestone.
“When you think about high school, it’s one of the first things you think about,” said Kaeleigh Commisso.
She’s a senior at Shaker High School and she, along with her brother Tony and sister Emma, have all been looking forward to their senior prom. It’s slated for May 22 and is still on the schedule, unlike the junior-senior prom at Academy of Holy Names, which has been canceled.
The chance that Shaker’s prom could go the same way weighs on students like Kaeleigh.
“It’s a big thing that my friends and I are worrying about,” she said.
The Commisso triplets’ father, Anthony, who owns Tuxego in Latham, believes that it’s only a matter of time before more proms are rescheduled or canceled.
“Initially I said ‘It’s going to push things back,’ but then I realized that the likelihood that proms are going to occur are slim to none,’ Anthony said. “Every two weeks, school’s getting pushed back another two weeks.”
That will have a major impact on his business, which is one of the most popular formal wear shops in the Capital Region. While the majority of his revenue comes from weddings, 25 percent of it comes from special events like proms.
Well before COVID-19 started spreading in the Capital Region, he predicted that this prom season would be more lucrative than previous seasons.
“I expected the numbers to be bigger this year for a couple reasons. I think the population in the schools [is] higher. I also have triplets that go to Shaker High who are very likable and have a lot of great friends. [I] anticipated it being a very big year for me at Shaker,” Commisso said.
Other businesses in the prom and special events industry are also feeling the financial strain that the virus has brought.
Belinda Shumway, the owner of Seasons Catering, said that about 20 percent of her business comes from proms and she has already received cancellations on orders for various events. She’s anticipating more cancellations in the coming weeks.
“Let’s face it, everyone’s going to be a bit paranoid,” Shumway said. “Even if they open back up in June, the school’s aren’t going to have these big gatherings right away.”
Kelly Sanvidge, the owner of the Garden Gate Florist in Clifton Park, has had to furlough his employees because the flower supply chain has been completely disrupted.
“The hurdle that totally put us out is the fact that the suppliers of our flowers are closed,” he said. “So there [are] no flowers even coming into the Capital District. We generally receive our flowers every morning. . . . We can’t even get them. It’s put a shutdown on florists,” Sanvidge said.
It’s also put school administrators in limbo.
Lake George High School’s junior prom is usually among the earliest in the region. This year, it was originally scheduled for the first weekend in April but it has been postponed until June 20. The Greenwich Central School District has had to postpone its junior prom, which was scheduled for April 25, until Columbus Day weekend.
At Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School, Principal Tim Brunson said that the junior-senior prom is still scheduled for May 15, but that he’s looking into other possibilities.
“BH-BL High School administrators are doing everything possible to reschedule events rather than cancel them,” Brunson said. “They have already looked at holding the [junior/senior] prom during the summer months if that is a possibility. However, it is impossible to provide any assurances given the circumstances.”
At Shenendehowa High School, Principal Ron Agostinoni said last week that the junior and senior proms are scheduled for May 9 and May 30, respectively.
“We’re not immune to seeing what’s going on in the world so we’re waiting guidance on any large gatherings moving forward,” he said. “We want to do whatever’s safe for the kids and our faculty and staff.”
School administrators have spoken with vendors, like the Saratoga Springs City Center, about their contracts and deposits just in case they do have to move the date. Agostinoni said if they have to postpone the next step will be talking about the decision with students.
“I can make decisions but it’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about them, so we would engage them as much as we could. There’s certain things we will be able to do and we will not be able to do. I don’t know all the answers right now but that would be our process.”
Shenendehowa’s junior and senior proms are often well-attended, bringing in between 600 and 800 students, according to Agostinoni.
“People wait a long time for it … It’s something that we all look forward to but obviously, it’s a huge investment emotionally and financially for families,” Agostinoni said.
“We’ve been focused on the continuity of learning and as we’re trying to continue to improve that, we’re shifting our focus to events because our kids want to learn but they also want to know about what’s going on with their events. It’s not an easy time.”
Christine Joan Goutos, the owner of Rockabella Boutique in Saratoga Springs, has found that students are looking at prom as the light at the end of the tunnel.
“From my perspective, from who I’ve been talking to, it does seem like everyone’s holding out hope and looking for that celebration when this is over,” Goutos. “Everyone does seem to have their priorities in line.”
Since she closed the store to the public last month, she’s set up a few virtual shopping sessions with clients looking for anything from accessories to dresses.
“I’m still able to pull dresses to show them what we’re talking about. I’ll dress my mannequins so they can really see it on a body. It’s been a really interesting way to get a little dress shopping done,” Goutos said.
Some students, like Emma Commisso, are trying to find alternative ways to celebrate safely.
While she is trying to look on the bright side, the prospect of missing her senior prom isn’t something she’s taking lightly.
“It’s not like it’s my first prom and I haven’t gone before but I’ll still be pretty sad if it’s canceled because senior prom’s a big deal,” Emma said.
Her brother, Tony, feels the same way.
“I would love to go to it because it’s my senior prom.”
Tony has been brainstorming ways that the class of 2020 might be able to make up for missing their prom and said that maybe students could celebrate around Thanksgiving-time when many are home from college.
That might be months out, and well after their senior years are complete, but with the rapid spread of COVID-19, many students most likely won’t be able to celebrate prom as originally planned.
“I feel sorry for these seniors,” Shumway said. “My heart goes out to them. This was supposed to be their last hurrah. They’re not going to have that.”