No prom? No problem. Teens descend on the Empire Polo Club thanks to their moms


About 300 high school students were invited to enter through the Avenue 50 entrance of the Empire Polo Club. Glittering golden balloons in front of the aisle guided them.

An indescribable sign greeted them at the famous venue – a month after the Coachella and Stagecoach music festivals typically take place on more than 250 acres. Both festivals were canceled this year. So was the Palm Desert High School graduation party.

Friday evening, the place sign read: “PDHS class of 2021”.

The students learned of the event two weeks earlier. The short notice hasn’t stopped them from buying or renting tuxedos and suits, or from reusing, buying or borrowing prom dresses and cocktail dresses.

“I got it for $ 60 at a COVID sale last year,” Samantha Garcia, 18, said of her red evening dress. “In case.”

Organizers said school officials asked them not to call the event a “ball” since it was not a school event. About an hour later, Garcia was starting to think she should be hitting the dance floor soon – you know, to inspire others to come out too. Palm Desert students take a while to warm up, she said.

Palm Desert High School seniors Kaylee McGraw and Cooper Wilson dance together at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. On May 21, 2021. Parents hosted the event because schools couldn't hold a ball. official.

The class of 2021, which started its final year of high school amid the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic, has mostly been separated from each other, working from home or in blended learning, spending a few days in school and others outside.

“They worked hard – they gave their time and this year has been so difficult for so many kids,” said Kelly Fitchpatrick, one of the Palm Desert mothers who hosted the event. “It is always a difficult time for a lot of children.”

Not only have the students had to work in new remote conditions, they don’t get much leniency in terms of tests or grades, Fitchpatrick said. They fear they will not pass their classes and not graduate, she said, while losing family members to the coronavirus.

“We just wanted a chance for the kids to go out together one last time,” she said. “They may never see each other again. It’s the end of that part of their life.”

Tickets cost about as much as a typical ballroom ticket – $ 80 – and included dinner, music and dancing, cards and the cornhole, a gaming trailer equipped with game consoles and televisions, and a photo booth.

Although the event was aimed at high school students in Palm Desert, other Coachella Valley students were welcomed as guests. Garcia brought her 18-year-old boyfriend, Gustavo Perez.

On May 21, 2021, Palm Desert High School Senior Executives Samantha Garcia and Gustavo Perez attend a Palm Desert High School Parents Party at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

Perez graduated from Indio High School last year. Now he attends California State University, San Bernardino.

“I really missed my last year,” Perez said, “events that I really wanted to go to.” This included the prom, but also class trips to the beach and Disneyland.

As well as being deprived of the last moments of his senior year, Perez also lost his father in October. “I’m really glad she invited me,” Perez said.

Wearing a pink dress she borrowed from her mother, Palm Desert High senior Jennifer DeLeon said last year had been very difficult. The 18-year-old said she suffered from anxiety and depression.

“I’ve always been a little anxious,” she says. “But I think with school and COVID there was so much change so quickly and I wasn’t used to it.”

DeLeon and his friends are usually very active during the school year, participating in sports and clubs. While she felt neutral about losing the prom at first, Friday’s event “actually helped,” she said.

“This is something that I had to look forward to, so that I could be happy in the midst of all this meanness,” DeLeon said.

On the day of the event, the girls were still finishing their final. Next week, she and her friends will be having AP tests.

High school students, mostly from Palm Desert High School, attend a party hosted by the students' parents at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, Calif. On May 21, 2021.

About two hours later, the dance floor began to fill up, surrounded by the polo field’s stone lions and lighted pink palm trees. And so does a nearby snack table – complete with donuts, éclairs, cupcakes and Mama Zuma’s Revenge chips.

Before dancing to Olivia Rodrigo’s “déjà vu” – she’s like a “baby Taylor Swift” who’s “blowing up” right now – Brooke Arnson and her friends Kalie Wilson and Emmi Norris gave the taco bar a try.

After a year of “disappointment on top of disappointment,” Arnson said the few events for seniors have exceeded the 17-year-old’s expectations. There was a football game, a “senior sunrise” in the parking lot and now this.

“We’ve had the majority of the year, which I’m grateful for,” said Norris, 18, who lives in Idyllwild and graduated from high school last year. “I feel bad for them (this year’s class).”

Arnson and Wilson couldn’t tell if the event looked like a ball or not. Since their junior prom was canceled last year, they have never gone.

“It is what it is,” said Wilson, 18. “There is so much going on in the world right now.”

Maria Sestito covers the issues of aging in the Coachella Valley. She is also a member of the Report for America Corps. Follow her on Twitter @RiaSestito, on Instagram @RiaSestito_Reporter or email her at [email protected]

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