Regrets. We all have them, and chances at redemption are few and far between. One of mine has always been my junior and senior prom. Prom should be one of the highlights of high school. It’s your chance to shine, show off, dazzle your classmates.
My appearances at prom pretty much sucked. Many of you who knew me back then know I was painfully shy, especially when it came to girls. I wasn’t exactly a ladies man in high school. In fact, you can count the number of dates I had on both hands … even if you don’t have fingers.
Like many others, that was an awkward time for me. My parents were in the midst of a divorce my junior year through the summer of my senior year. The family would probably tell you I was a rock during that period, stoic, as always. I was putting on a great show.
Inside, I was lost and hurt. My way of coping was eating. The pounds came on fast. As the pounds piled up, the confidence floated away. Girls were more daunting than bungee-jumping. So, I didn’t ask anybody to prom.
A lot of kids can go to prom stag and not miss a beat. A lot of kids cannot. Despite the fact that I had a slick teal tux for junior prom, I wasn’t into it at all. I stayed for dinner and left. No class photo. No dancing. I shrugged off the compliments about my tux as pity. I regret leaving so early to this day.
Senior prom wasn’t much better, despite a black and gold tux with a cane. I stayed for dinner and the class photo, then I left. No dancing. That was a mistake. Several girls at the after party asked why I’d left without dancing with them. I didn’t have an answer. I remember thinking, “It’s so awesome being everybody’s friend!”
I’ve thought about those nights over the years. It’s not that they altered life. It’s that they summed up a significant part of high school – social life. The regret is that I didn’t try harder. More specifically, that I didn’t have a date.
Fast-forward 17 years. It’s the spring of 2011, and I’m working at Washburn. We’ve been tasked with putting together a gala event to launch the school’s sesquicentennial celebration, which lasts through 2015.
The event, the Bow Tie Ball, is a black-tie affair with wine, food, dancing, pictures, mingling, you name it. My first thought? “Hell yeah! I get another shot at prom!”
Ironically, I weighed about the same at prom as I did at that time, around 250 pounds. So, I dedicated myself to looking good for the event. From July 19 to Nov. 19, I worked my butt off at the gym and ran nearly every day. The results? Thirty-six pounds lost. By the day of the ball, I was wearing the same size tux as my suits in college.
The biggest change going into my third prom? The girl. I didn’t have to be nervous about finding a date. I had the girl. In fact, I had the girl. That’s right, my girlfriend and I went to the same high school. She was the prom queen her senior year and my freshman year.
As I did my senior year of high school, I wore a black and gold tux. The girlfriend, who’s even more beautiful now than she was back in the day (when she was the it girl at Burlingame High School), wore a gorgeous blue dress a friend found in China.
What a contrast from 17 years ago? No shyness or embarrassment. Complete confidence, partly because I looked decent, but mainly because I had the best-looking girl there.
I took a great deal of pride in hearing women – and our president – compliment her dress, as well as her beauty. I took just as much pride in those “wow, look who Ernie brought” looks.
From loneliness at prom, to having the prom queen hanging onto my arm. So much for regrets.