When student council adviser Denise Vaniadis read an article from the Tulsa World to her leadership class at Union HS in Tulsa, Okla., about a school that had never had a dance and was struggling to organize its first prom, she intended for them to be thankful for their own situation. She wanted them to appreciate something they had always taken for granted. She did not anticipate the impact that reading the article would have.
The article told about Graham HS of Weleetka, Okla., where generation after generation-through the terms of 14 U.S. presidents-had mistakenly believed the deed for the land on which the school stands contained a ban on dancing. "This single issue had created some unrest among the students in the 22 years I had been at Graham, but during the last three to five years, this dissatisfaction seemed to get worse," according to Wanda Mankin, counselor and senior class adviser. "Back in the fall when the students originally approached me with the idea that they wanted to have a prom, I felt that the time was right to support such an endeavor."
Juniors Melissa Puckett and Justin Snelson circulated a prom petition that the entire 60-student body signed. Student leaders presented a proposal to the school board, which approved the request to have the first prom at Graham. "After the board voted to give the students their prom, they calmly left the board room. I'm told that they jumped and screamed once they reached the outside, while I had to stay in the meeting and remain totally calm," said Mankin.
Once the excitement of the decision wore off, reality set in. "A lot of money was needed to produce the kind of prom they wanted. After a couple of fundraisers they were still short of their goal," said Mankin. The group brainstormed additional fundraising ideas and decided to contact the press to see if they'd be interested in doing a feature story on the effort. The Tulsa World ran the story that caught Vaniadis' eye.
After Vaniadis read the story to her leadership class, two of her students, Alayna Ellis and Lindsey Swan, approached her with the idea of helping Graham plan its first prom. They realized that they could loan to Graham the supplies in the Union student council supply closet that had accumulated from previous dances. The leadership students also realized that their experience in planning dances and other student activities would be invaluable for the students who had never tackled dance planning. Ellis and Swan called to offer their assistance to Graham's student leaders and invited them to visit Union HS for a planning session.
Puckett, Snelson, and junior class president Sara Elliott went to Union with Mankin and junior class adviser Ida Lawson. "My kids had built some displays of possibilities for backdrops for photos, table set-ups, and decorations, and they went through our storage closet and dug through all the supplies," said Vaniadis. "The Graham students had some ideas for decorating their theme (A Dream for Us) they had gotten from the catalogs. My kids went through the catalogs with them giving tips on what works and doesn't and showed photos from previous dances at Union. They also shared our project planning forms and guided them through the process of planning a dance, pointing out things like hiring a photographer that they hadn't thought of," she said.
Watching the tutoring process was interesting for Vaniadis, who has been a leadership teacher for many years. "It was really neat to watch our kids take our project checklist and other forms and walk the Graham students through how to put on a good project." said Vaniadis. "They took just doing a project to the next level, and were able to teach someone else to do a project. Instead of just putting on the dance-- and for some of my kids they had put on many dances in their four years in student council-they shared their knowledge and experience."
In the weeks that followed, Union students visited Graham to see how they could best contribute. "We took pictures of the areas we would be decorating and we also brought a load of stuff for them to start using," said Ellis. When Ellis and Swan discovered that Graham planned to have a banquet, they volunteered to serve the food.
When the day of the prom arrived, Ellis and Swan and six of their friends made the trip to Graham to help decorate the gym and serve the food. They dressed up like waiters to serve dinner, then cleaned up the banquet area while the Graham students went on to enjoy their dance.
"They gave up the chance to go to St. Louis for the NASC area conference-a trip I had planned as a reward for the seniors for all their hard work-- to go instead to Graham to serve at the prom. It was entirely their idea, entirely their choice. I can't tell you how proud I am of them," said Vaniadis.
Graham's first prom was a big success-and a media circus-because of the hard work of its students and the willingness of strangers to lend a hand. "Our students have learned two valuable lessons from this experience-that you can have dreams and if you work hard you can make those dreams a reality, and that giving unselfishly of yourself, as the girls from Union did, is a much bigger reward than taking selfishly from others," said Alfred Gaches, Graham principal.
The leadership class at Union also learned that sharing their knowledge and expertise brought its own rewards. "It has been said that the best leaders lead by example. This is certainly true in this case," wrote Mankin in a letter thanking the Union students for their help. "The leadership class at Union HS and the administration should be proud of these young ladies. The girls have truly left an impression on our students in a positive way and have served as role models for our students. I would give your leadership class an A+."