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Senn High School’s prom king, Tyshaun Zollicoffer and queen, Felice Lee, dance after receiving their crowns outside the North Side school on June 5, 2021. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

The High School Class Of 2021 Celebrates With A Prom To Remember

After missing so much in their last year, seniors are savoring prom. “I walked in and I was already crying,” one joyful Senn High grad said.

Senn High School’s prom king, Tyshaun Zollicoffer and queen, Felice Lee, dance after receiving their crowns outside the North Side school on June 5, 2021. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
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Senn High School’s prom king, Tyshaun Zollicoffer and queen, Felice Lee, dance after receiving their crowns outside the North Side school on June 5, 2021. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

The High School Class Of 2021 Celebrates With A Prom To Remember

After missing so much in their last year, seniors are savoring prom. “I walked in and I was already crying,” one joyful Senn High grad said.

Prom is back for the high school class of 2021 after being canceled last year because of the pandemic.

Many high schools in Chicago chose large venues like Soldier Field to make sure students could be socially distant. Other schools, including Senn, a Chicago public high school on the North Side, got creative and used their outdoor spaces to make this event memorable, despite the limitations.

Senn’s majestic front lawn was alive again Saturday as seniors walked red carpets, many wearing shiny dresses and colorful tuxedos. Secret Garden was the theme, with balloons decorating five tents, lights dangling from the trees and flowers adorning the tables.

Many students said they couldn’t believe the school’s transformation. But they said what made it extra special was seeing friends for the first time in more than a year. Most of Senn’s graduating class stayed remote the entire school year.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Casey Murtaugh, a Senn art teacher, on the left, and Wendy Boatman, a Seen counselor, made last minute touches to the decorations before prom began. The school staff pulled the event together to make it special for their graduating seniors.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Eva Zacatenco, left, and Elizabeth Merchan arrive at prom Saturday night. About 170 students came to the prom, which cost $40 a student. Typically, students pay about $120.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Many Senn seniors said they were thrilled to see their classmates and teachers in person for the first time since the pandemic shut schools down in March 2020.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Students spent a lot of the night catching up. Masks and social distancing were recommended but not required. Sunglasses were optional as well.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Left to right, Ana Jimenez and Yoselin Mondragon returning from the snack and beverage tent. School officials say they had never planned an outdoor prom. Usually prom venues take care of most details. This year, school staff worked long hours to set up and decorate.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Left to right, Esteban Reyes, Elsie Quemada and Janus Edison Banaag eat snow cones. Senn school officials installed five tents including one for popcorn and snow cones.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Some students went all out to look their best. They scheduled early hair and makeup appointments. Their family members also held prom send-offs, a family pre-celebration aimed at sending students off to prom in style.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

After a year marked by stress, anxiety and lots of uncertainty, prom was also an emotional moment for teachers and Senn Principal Mary Beck, shown here crowning Senn’s prom king. “I think I cried about three times already because the kids have been just so happy. I think this is more than what the kids expected, which we were worried that it wasn’t going to be.”

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Students danced under a tent set up outside Senn. Terrell Walsh, the school’s IT administrator, coordinated a lot of the planning for the prom and was in charge of hyping up the party, which included getting out on the dance floor with the seniors.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Senn seniors danced under a tent installed by the school’s front door. They danced to a wide range of songs, including the Cupid Shuffle and the Party Rock Anthem. Latino seniors took over the dance floor when the DJ played merengue and bachata.

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Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

A senior enjoys a moment to himself at Senn’s prom. Students weren’t sure what to expect from an outdoor prom, but several said they couldn’t believe how the school staff transformed the school’s front yard. “It shows how much effort they put in for us,” one student said.

Manuel Martinez is a visual journalist at WBEZ. Follow him @DenverManuel. Adriana Cardona-Maguigad covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @AdrianaCardMag.