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Medina High Seniors 'Party At The Parthenon' With Pandemic Prom Precautions

David Whittington
Some Medina High School seniors donning their finest for group pictures before prom.

This year’s high school seniors know full well how the pandemic robbed the Class of 2020 of so many in-person senior traditions, the culmination of 12 years of work, play and friendships made.

So this year’s Medina High School seniors did not take for granted the fact that they were getting a prom – even if the dance looked a little different.

But hey, it’s been more than a year of rolling with the pandemic punches and putting a positive spin on it. So they knew putting on that tux, that dress, those new Vans and dancing with friends was a gift.

Andrew Josefcyzk
Medina High School seniors showing their classmates how it's done on the dance floor at Medina High School's 2021 prom.

A day before prom in Medina, 18-year-old David Whittington tried on the grey tuxedo he rented with his mom’s fashion sense and help and paused to take in the moment. The senior wants to major in architecture when he starts at The Ohio State University next fall. But first he has some major senior events coming his way – events he wasn’t sure he was going to get to have even a few months ago.

“Especially at the beginning of this year, I didn't really know what the last half of my year was going to look like. And so far it's just been a blast,” Whittington said. “I finished all my classes. I don't really have anything else to do, and I'm getting ready for a big dance."

Whittington and his girlfriend, Katie Strzalka, another Medina High senior, planned their outfits around Katie’s current favorite color: sage green. That’s the color of her dress, his tie – and the laces on their his-and-hers Vans.

David Whittington
David Whittington and Katie Strzalka coordinated their sage green prom looks all the way down to their shoe laces.

David Whittington and Katie Strzalka coordinated their sage green prom looks all the way down to their shoe laces. [David Whittington]

On the big night, music spills out of the school’s doors. The prom theme, “Party at the Parthenon,” plays out in the decorations: white and blue streamers zigzagged across the ceiling, Greek columns lining the walls,wrapped in lights and fake ivy, gold and white balloons hang over the doors to the gym, a.k.a. the dance floor.

A lot of work from students, parents and staff went into making the prom and after-prom look festive, said Medina City Schools Assistant Superintendent and Interim Principal Kristen Quallich.

“I think just seeing our seniors have the opportunity to get some normalcy back and have their prom, it's been really exciting having a senior myself,” Quallich said. “It was great to take pictures again with the kids and see them excited about pictures.”

Jenny Hamel
Three Medina seniors showed off their creativity and posed the question, "Who needs to buy a dress, when you can make your own?"

But even with balloons and streamers, the big dance was still changed by COVID-19. Invitations went only to Medina seniors and they couldn’t bring outside guests. Typically, prom is held off-campus at a swankier venue, but this year it’s in the high school gym and without the usual banquet. In lieu of the dinner, school staff asked local restaurants to come up with prom specials where seniors could go before the dance. 

And even as recently a week prior, the school’s pandemic prom plan was to keep kids in smaller, distanced groups. Three plans for the event were developed and approved by the Medina County Health Director and the final decision was to divide the dance floor into grids with masking tape and ask students to dance in those quadrants, staying in limited-number groups.

But just days before Medina’s prom, Gov. Mike DeWine announced COVID-related guidelines would soon be relaxed in Ohio. The school checked in again with local health officials and made the last-minute decision to call off the grids. 

“Yes, the grids are gone,” Strzalka said. “Honestly, I didn't really care about them in the first place. Like, I was just going to do what we had to do.”

That’s the vibe coming from all of the students at prom this year: they’re just glad to be here, it’s going to be a good time, and they’re taking everything in stride. Andrew Montgomery, this year’s student body treasurer, said it took a little while for the crowd to warm up.

“The dancing has been crazy. The songs have been really good. Everyone's really energetic,” Montgomery said. “I feel like people were kinda like anti-social. You forgot how to socialize from COVID. But everyone is really coming together and stuff which is really good.”

Andrew Josefcyzk
Group shot by professional photographer Andrew Josefcyzk before these Medina seniors, dressed to the nines, enter the dance.

Group shot by professional photographer Andrew Josefcyzk before these Medina seniors, dressed to the nines, enter the dance. [Andrew Josefcyzk]

Watching the students in the gym sing together, dancing in big groups, small groups, jumping up and down or just kind of watching from the periphery, it looks like a very typical prom night. 

“I'm just glad to be here,” Whittington said. “Just dancing with friends, just having a good time going to dinner. We took pictures. It was really fun. I had a really good time. It's just good to just finally be here and just partying all night.”

Even after the most atypical of senior years, these kids are appreciating the moment and marking the end of high school together in this tight-knit community.

“Definitely one of my favorite things about knowing these people for twelve years… I've been friends with some people since elementary school,” Strzalka said. “And then I see them at a dance like this and we just, like, connect again. And it's been years, and I really love that.” 

Senior class treasurer Jordyn Rupelli said knowing the high school experience is nearing its final days is “very sad.”  

“Definitely having the prom has helped me accept the fact that I'm graduating and coming towards the end,” Rupelli said.

Medina’s Class of 2021 comes together in person one more time – May 22 at the school’s football stadium to get their diplomas, masks and tickets required.

Copyright 2021 90.3 WCPN ideastream. To see more, visit 90.3 WCPN ideastream.

Jenny Hamel is the host of the “Sound of Ideas.”