For generations of American teenagers, it has been a durable rite of passage — one that often brings a heady swirl of angst and nervous excitement.
But this year, California high schoolers told me that their proms were different. After the students had spent the better part of a year learning from home, the events were sites of unfettered joy and relief, free of drama.
As Sienna Barry, a senior and the student body president at Petaluma High School, put it: “Why have drama on the one night you get of senior year?”
Over the past several weeks, Maggie Shannon, a Los Angeles-based photographer, attended the proms of four high schools spread across four regions of the state to capture the emotional, colorful, exuberant scenes for The New York Times. I talked to students later about what being able to attend prom this year meant to them.
There were many reminders that prom this year wasn’t normal, including masks specially made to match gowns. Many events were held outdoors, and vaccination or a negative coronavirus test was required for entry.
Nevertheless, the teens told me that the year apart made prom a chance for a poignant reunion and an opportunity to celebrate not only finishing high school, but also making it through the worst of the pandemic.
In Fowler, a Central Valley town just southeast of Fresno, where students were decked out in cowboy boots and hats, prom was a chance to cut loose with classmates who have become like family over many years of living in the same community.
“It had been such a long time since we’d all been together,” Komal Sandhu, the student body president at Fowler High School, told me.
The proms weren’t totally devoid of stress, though. Students and administrators had much less time than normal to plan the events.
Join Michael Barbaro and “The Daily” team as they celebrate the students and teachers finishing a year like no other with a special live event. Catch up with students from Odessa High School, which was the subject of a Times audio documentary series. We will even get loud with a performance by the drum line of Odessa’s award-winning marching band, and a special celebrity commencement speech.
And for some, the uncertainty meant putting together the perfect look in a hurry.
“It’s not like back in the day when you’d wear your grandpa’s suit and call it a day,” Marco J. Gochez, a senior at Encore High School in Hesperia, told me.
He had ordered a sparkly suit online, but it didn’t fit when it arrived. So he and his mom rushed to Macy’s, and he had to settle for what his friends told him was a more political vibe.
“It was fine though,” Gochez said. “I was just living my politician fantasy.”
At the proms, the fashions were as varied as the teens themselves. Revelers of all genders donned suits. Crocs weren’t an uncommon sight alongside heels and sneakers.
Here’s what else to know today
Vice President Kamala Harris’s policy plate is loaded with intractable problems, including protecting voting rights and addressing the root causes of migration from Central America. Will that help or hurt her in a future presidential bid?
The vice president will be working to succeed where U.S. aid programs have failed to make Central America a better place to live.
On Friday, a federal judge in San Diego ruled that California’s decades-old ban on assault weapons was unconstitutional. State officials vowed to appeal, but it was a big win for gun advocates emboldened by a shifting Supreme Court.
The state’s insurance regulator endorsed proposals that would aggressively limit construction in fire-prone areas. If adopted, they could reshape the real estate market.
This year’s wildfire season is expected to be made much worse by the drought gripping the West. Here’s what to know about it.
A man and a woman have been arrested in the shooting death of a 6-year-old during what the authorities have said was a road rage incident, The Orange County Register reports.
Sacramento will audit city departments to assess diversity, equity and inclusion and address “toxic workplace cultures,” The Sacramento Bee reports.
U.C.L.A. economists said California’s strict Covid restrictions protected its economy, and the state is now poised for one of the best years of economic growth “since World War II,” The Los Angeles Times reports.
Going to the beach? You may want to look out for ticks, The Los Angeles Times reports.
Gov. Gavin Newsom kicked off the state’s Covid-19 vaccine lottery on Friday. Another batch of names will be drawn this week.
LeBron James lost a first-round playoff series for the first time in his N.B.A. career. It was part of a bonkers start to the playoffs.
Alice Waters is opening a restaurant in Los Angeles, Eater Los Angeles reports. It’s her first new restaurant in decades and her first in Los Angeles. It will be at the Hammer Museum.
Many Bay Area restaurants are ending tipping as they reopen, The San Francisco Chronicle reports: “Many of us recognized we were in a broken system to begin with.”
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.