Santiago Vivar was running for speech team captain at Milton Academy, and each of the seven candidates had to give a two-minute speech in front of team members. Coach Susan Marianelli was standing by, stopwatch in hand to make sure no one went over the limit.
It was also Boat Dance time, the junior class version of the prom. Vivar, a junior from New York, decided to kill two birds with one speech. He spoke of his love for the team, and described his qualifications, declaring that he wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions.
He concluded: “And to prove it, Maddy, will you go to Boat Dance with me?”
Sitting in the crowd of about 40 students, sophomore Madeleine Landau blushed deeply while her friends oohed and aahed. Marianelli, who was not in on the scheme, glanced at her watch and said, “You have seven seconds to reply.”
Landau, who is from Natick, said yes.
It’s prom season, and the outdated notion of calling someone and asking her to the prom has long since given way to social media invites. And in the past two or three years, those have now given way to the promposal, a publicly issued ask that has become so popular — and often creative — that in some schools it has become a competition to see who can outdo whom.
For a generation that many teachers and parents view as more precocious about sex than romance, promposals have become, for some, almost as big as the prom itself.
For Vivar, the decision to go public was an easy one. “I didn’t want to do it in a generic way, like, ‘Hey, do you want to go to prom?’ That’s really boring.”
Making a memorable promposal has prompted group serenades, Jumbotron questions, public address requests, flash mobs, airplane banners, cheesy public poetry, and tons of flowers, chocolates, and other gifts, including cupcakes with the question spelled out in icing.
Naturally, many of the promposals are recorded and then sent out via Instagram and YouTube for all the world to see. For these digital natives, the word “secret” is not part of the vocabulary. Why should prom be any different?
At Braintree High, promposals really took off this year. Kevin Howard, who is on the hockey team, enlisted the help of Shawn Thornton of the Boston Bruins during a speech the forward gave at the school. Another student formulated a set of Harry Potter-themed clues that led to his invitation.
But some schools around the country have had it with the plethora of promposals, including a high school in Pennsylvania that banned them after a hallway drama was mistaken for a fight by administrators.
At Newton North High School, promposals started small four years ago but have become so numerous and elaborate that the school is considering ways to limit them. “When they’re done appropriately and in the right setting, I think they’re really sweet and wonderful,” says Jennifer Price, the principal. “The challenge is that we’ve had them interrupting class and creating spectacles in public spaces.”
This year’s promposal season at Newton North was quite lengthy. Junior prom is Saturday and the senior prom is May 31. The promposals started in February among the school’s 1,000 juniors and seniors.
Some school administrators see the promposals as harmless fun that fosters a sense of community rather than elitism. And in a hookup era when few teens actually date, they lend a bit of excitement and even romance.
“They’re huge here,” says Martha Queenin, a social worker at Lexington High School, who is the senior class adviser. “Everyone does it. It’s become part of the culture of the school.”
Queenin says that though the promposals may create pressure on students to top one another, she thinks the pluses outweigh the stress. “There are a lot of sweet, fun gestures,” she says. “This is a culture where kids don’t date and don’t think of thoughtful things for other people as being part of the high school experience.”
Meg Landers, whose daughter, Nora, was promposed to last year, agrees. She watched from a window as a quartet of male students dressed in tuxedos rang the doorbell. “They sang a Stevie Wonder song, ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ Can you imagine having four guys dressed up serenading your daughter at the front door? I wanted to yell out the window, ‘can you do it again?’ But of course, I kept silent.”
Last year, Lexington junior Ryan Banard was asked to the senior prom. By a pizza. When he opened his door one evening to a pizza delivery man, there was also a group of girls standing there. When he opened the pizza box, “Prom?” was spelled out in pepperoni.
Promposals range from the grand plan to the spontaneous display. Last year, when some Lexington High students went to New York for a jazz festival, Banard says, actor Don Cheadle was there and agreed to tweet a promposal for one of the students.
Both Banard and Vivar admit another advantage to the public ask: It’s more likely to prompt a “yes” from a girl.
“I thought I should do it publicly because the pressure of it being public would increase the chances of her saying yes,” says Vivar.
“Girls are almost put in the position where it’s hard for them to say no,” says Banard.
But it is unlikely that a guy will ask a girl unless he is pretty sure he already knows her answer, many say. In fact, askers often find it smart to consult with the target’s friends. In some cases, they ask for their help, too. Safety — or at least courage — in numbers.
For the third year, Duxbury High School ran a contest to see who could get the most creative in asking someone to the prom on Saturday. . The winner got two free prom tickets. Senior Charlie Murphy enlisted some expert help from the Duxbury Police Department. He also enlisted Megan Zaverucha’s friends, who were to be in her car at a certain time and place as they headed to another friend’s house.
Murphy was following, as a passenger in a police cruiser.
The blue light went on. Police Sergeant Dennis Symmonds asked Zaverucha for her license and registration and to step out of the car. As she emerged, Murphy alighted from the cruiser and popped the question.
But the ruse placed second in the contest. The winner was a boy who stood up during lunch and told the story of how he made a promise to a certain girl when they were in the eighth grade that he would reenact a scene from “High School Musical’’ when they were seniors. And then he reenacted the scene.
In Quincy, the Dairy Freeze has a tradition of putting messages on its marquee for $25 in a charitable contribution. On a recent weekend, the sign read, “Kelly, will you go to prom with me?”
Manager Susan Spargo watched as the young man brought a young woman to the drive-up ice cream shop, pointed at the sign — and later gave Spargo a thumbs-up.
A Peabody High School senior got the Cinema Salem to put his promposal on its movie marquee. When Jason Quadros and Meghan Buckley arrived for a 6:45 showing of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” the sign, and flowers, greeted her.
In Lexington, Banard notes one downside to promposals. “People have started asking earlier. Some ask a month in advance, and that takes that [girl] off the table.” He says it’s “crunch time” for him to find a date for the June 5 dance.
“I might just go to a possible date’s house and say, ‘Hey, do you want to go to the prom?’ ” he says.
That would be decidedly old school, but, also these days, rare and creative.