Lake and Pen goes to prom

Apr 25, 2016

Forget rented limousines, these Southwest Alaska high schoolers take chartered flights for the year's biggest (often only) dance in Newhalen.

Capping an exciting Academic and Athletics meet week, LPSD high school students gathered for prom Thursday night in Newhalen. Students and teachers worked quickly through the afternoon transforming the recently expanded “Coach Bob Rychnovsky Gymnasium” into a red carpet event for nearly 70 prom-goers from nine small schools.

By 3:30 p.m., the pressure was on. “They only have a couple hours before prom’s going to start, so they’re going to want to scoot pretty soon and start taking showers, and fixing their hair, and getting their dresses,” said Ms. Kate Cornell from Newhalen. “These guys get all decked out, and it’s a beautiful thing.”

Bear in mind that students came on small planes from locations as distant from one another as Perryville and Port Alsworth for this quintessential teen milestone. Hoodies were swapped for sleek evening wear, the lights were dimmed, and the music bumped. A group of fellows hustled in early, a bit of attire still in hand.

“I don’t know how to tie a tie,” admitted one, handing it off to Superintendent Ty Mase.

“This is one of those events that we’ve never considered cutting,” said Mase, knotting up some Windsors for the boys. “It’s kind of the culmination of our school year, and the kids look forward to it. The money spent is well worth it.”

Roses were for sale at the door, middle school-aged volunteers served a dinner, and photographer Dan Bandel set up a studio to capture the memories on behalf of families a hundred miles away.

“The dream of every photographer is to have a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, but you know mine are hanging on refrigerator galleries of aunties and uncles and grandparents all up and Southwest Alaska,” he said.

Now, only a few attendees coupled up ahead of time. In fact, one school agrees amongst itself to avoid that throat-tightening, heart-palpitating hurdle altogether.

“Our school, we just all go together,” said Tanalian junior Anthony Mcgee.

Ms. Cornell had faith that aspect of a Bush prom night would sort itself out, perhaps more subtly than the average adult eye might detect. “Usually with people asking each other, you get here, you kinda scope ‘em out, and if you see something you like, you go for it. That’s what’s so lovely about this, once everybody’s here the dating pool gets sooo much bigger.”

For a while Thursday evening, the uncoupled gentlemen, the majority, were a tad reluctant to ask ladies to the dance floor.

“It’s cause they’re shy,” said Ali Smith from Port Alsworth, who goaded a few of them on. “See, the girls are just dancing with themselves. Often it’s just awkward and everyone sits around and waits.”

Things certainly picked up as the night went along. But as far as birds and bees, Newhalen senior Gregory Zackar had something different in mind. Before the sun set on that long spring evening, he was ready to swap the shirt and tie for camouflage.

“Yeah, I’d rather go shoot ducks. It’s more fun than this, I guess,” he said, grinning. Perhaps his girlfriend in Naknek would be glad to hear it.

dave@kdlg.org or 907.842.5281