After months of hardship, the seniors of Coney Island’s storm-ravaged Abraham Lincoln High School got the party of a lifetime: a senior prom they never expected.
On Thursday night, more than 150 prom-goers walked down an ice-blue carpet illuminated by flashing lights into the historic Vanderbilt house on Staten Island. The foyer of the oceanfront ballroom housed an ice castle almost three feet tall, and the tables were immaculately decorated with gorgeous wintry centerpieces. It was a night students had looked forward to for months but thought might not happen.
Last October, Hurricane Sandy nearly destroyed this school in the heart of New York City’s famed beach community. Students, many of whom were displaced by the storm, returned to class over a week after the rains had stopped to find the school’s athletic fields and basement flooded and many of of its facilities severely damaged.
The greatest tragedy, though, was the loss of beloved science teacher Henry Sullivan, who drowned in the basement of his home in the nearby Rockaways.
“Some kids were coming back to school didn’t know what to do—and some teachers didn’t know what to do, either,” said Donavion Thomas, 17. “So we just had to come together as a community, as a family, and help each other out.”
The students of Lincoln soldiered on despite the challenges and tried to reclaim a sense of normalcy and routine in their lives. For seniors, it meant working their hardest to create one last memorable event before saying goodbye.
“They say graduation is your last time together,” said Tatyana Hurry, 17. “But to have fun, to be at a party, to just be yourselves with your friends and dress up—prom is the last time we get to do that together.”
Members of Lincoln’s student activities board started planning for the big night. And in January, they got some much-needed extra help.
After Sandy’s devastation, Maneesh Goyal, founder of the MKG marketing firm, approached the New York City Council for suggestions on how to assist some of those affected. Domenic Recchia, a council member from Coney Island, suggested Lincoln.
MKG, a 10-year-old firm that boasts clients like Coca-Cola and Google, put its event-planning skills to work in creating a memorable prom for Lincoln.
“These kids have been through it all in their senior year, and we wanted to give them something really special,” Goyal said.
Since early winter, MKG staffers worked closely with a handful of Lincoln students and administrators to make even their most fantastical wishes a reality.
“We all sat around and talked about what ideas we liked and what we expected to see at the prom,” said Fahmida Monita, 17.
From the start, the planning of the prom was very much a student-driven process. Students designed the music playlist for their prom with a DJ in an effort to have the music reflect Lincoln’s cultural diversity—of the 2,500 students at Lincoln, 35 percent are black, 25 percent are white, 20 percent are Latino and 19 percent are Asian. They even selected the night’s theme: ice castle.
“You can see it’s a feminine thing,” joked Thomas. “The guys had to sit back and let the girls have their good time.”
While the students developed their ideas, Goyal still wanted leave a few surprises for the big night. Behind the dance floor his team set up a Perch Interactive table, which brought up pictures of Lincoln students and their peers at the swipe of a hand.
MKG also provided a digital photo booth so that students will be emailed a few of their prom photos rather than having to pay for a package.
At the prom, girls in sparkling dresses dragged their dapper dates in front of the camera, smiling wide while the guys played it cool in sunglasses. And as hip-hop blasted from the DJ booth and crowds surged on the dance floor, other students scrolled through photos on the Perch table, reliving some of the last of their high school memories.
“It’s going to be very meaningful looking back,” Thomas said. “It’s going to show me, and it’s going to show others, how we can overcome things. We went from downhill with the storm, and then we got an opportunity."