An idea that occurred years ago was carried through with months of planning and days and hours of work when the red carpet was rolled out in downtown Saturday for the 2017 Mineola High School Prom.
The event saw 187 tickets sold and steady transports via limousines and antique cars from the First Baptist Church Student Center to the front door of Select Theater. The hometown theater was transformed with the stage being rebuilt to accommodate the weight of dancers. Members of the Kiwanis Club were helped by 11th and 12th grade students in constructing platforms to serve as “terraces” on the north and south sides of the auditorium. Vivid colored lights and twinkling trees lent ambience as students retreated into the darkened theater and listened to and danced to music inside. It also didn’t hurt that Saturday’s evening’s weather was some of the most beautiful yet of this spring.
As students stepped out of the vehicles with a spotlight piercing the night sky and the moon peeking over the theater rooftop, they paused for a red carpet picture and then were greeted by Texas A&M Students Brittany Witt and her boyfriend, Kyle Cassenover. The young man, who hosts bar trivia in College Station, was a natural as he delivered non-stop light-hearted banter as every arrival walked past.
For decades Mineola High School proms have been held mostly in hotel conference rooms or at the Rose Garden in Tyler. The idea of bringing it back to Mineola came to graduate Kristen Witt years ago, but it couldn’t be pulled off at that time. This year’s junior class, which is in charge of the prom, persevered to pull off an event that seemed to delight everyone, young and old, who was present.
Parent Stacy Hayes was watching for the arrival of the youngest of her five children, Cameron, a senior. Hays smiled and said when the idea was first mentioned she seriously questioned the thinking behind it, but as the work was done and then when the evening arrived, she was fully in support.
Superintendent Kim Tunnell was all smiles, “I couldn’t be more proud of the parents, our community volunteers and our student leadership in being able to pull this off. What a great night for Mineola and for our community.” Those involved learned organization, advocacy and service, she said, as they pulled together the things for the theater that made holding the prom there possible.
One of the prom committee parents, Susan Witt said, “My heart is full of pride in our city and how it’s come together to honor our students who are very well deserving.” She said there were times when organizers thought it wasn’t going to happen. “This committee prayed every single time before it met and God has honored that more times over.”
Witt said there were times her son Nathan, the prom committee chairman, came across some adversity because some of his classmates hadn’t “seen the vision yet. It was something new. I told him that every person that tries something new that’s never been done before comes across adversity - like Christopher Columbus wanted to sail around the world and everybody said that he was going to fall off. That it was flat and that he was crazy. You just have to stick with your convictions and when you do that you get the rewards and blessings of getting to see it.”
Nathan Witt paused to reflect on the process of moving the prom back home. He said for the prom committee, the idea started more as an afterthought among other ideas “and then we started thinking about it and talking about it as our many meetings continued and we thought – you know,” he said with emphasis, “why not Mineola?” He said after the band went to state and the football team won state, “It seemed like the time to make all this happen.”
The process was, he said, “brutal… As my dad told me at the beginning of this whole thing, `If you get backlash when you start, you know that you’re doing something big and you know that you’re doing something important.’
“And finally, we made it here,” Nathan said. And then, with excitement and a huge grin, “Wow, what a miracle God has given us!” The reaction has been “impactful.” He told of one girl who hadn’t been a fan from the beginning. “She came up here and she grabbed me by the arm and she said `Nathan, I walked down this road and I almost started crying. This is beautiful.’”
“The things that made this possible,” said the 18 year old, “were a student body that cared about the town, a town that cared about its student body and parents that cared about their children.”
Junior class President Austin Witt admitted that he is someone who typically would not have gone to prom and naturally was a little skeptical about the event. But when some of his classmates approached him and said they wanted to change up the event and make it something “that would give back to the town,” he changed his mind.
“It’s been hard because it’s been a lot of work and a lot of negative feedback. It’s hard to put these together when there’s all that negative atmosphere from some people. But we stayed with it. And I think right now, we can tell that it’s all paid off.”
“When I look back I don’t have to think `Oh, I had to go to a dance because I was junior class president,” Austin said. “My mindset is going to be that I got to lead my class, be a part of helping them give back to a town like ours.”