Party like it’s 2020

When schools closed in March 2020, Ilana Kofman ’24 kept up her spirits by summoning one thought.

“I was so excited for my senior prom,” she recalled. “I had bought a dress and started practicing makeup in my free time, because there was not much else to do.”

Kofman was “devastated” when the event was canceled weeks later. For four years, her unworn dress hung in a closet back home in western Massachusetts.

An occasion to don the sparkly green number finally arrived last month. Thanks to efforts of the Harvard College Class of 2024 Committee, Kofman and her friends got to attend a properly posh senior prom, corsages and boutonnieres included.

“It was obviously bittersweet,” said the double concentrator in economics and psychology. “I didn’t get to wear the dress in high school, but I’m very happy I got to wear it in College.”

Of course, a night out in gowns and tuxedos wasn’t the only tradition this year’s seniors missed out on as teens. They settled in as first-years amid the social distancing era, with online learning and 6 feet of separation from any interesting new peers.

“If you speak to most students in the Class of ’24 — not just at Harvard, but around the country — the lack of closure to high school and the difficult start to college makes people feel like they’re lacking something,” said Class of 2024 first marshal Fez S. Zafar, a government concentrator from Iowa.

As a result, the 33-member Class Committee resolved to play up the fun factor from the start of classes last fall.

“Our class has been through so much,” offered second marshal Chibuikem C. “Chuby” Uche, a native Texan studying government. “We felt like, you know what? It’s time to wrap things up on a high note.”

That meant throwing a series of gatherings, not just on campus but also at venues in Boston. It also meant heeding calls to host something like a prom.

Demand was high for the April 25 event, held at a nightclub near Boston’s Government Center. The tickets, which ranged from $20 to $40, sold quickly.

Nearly 500 students partied past midnight in their fancy prom attire. One of Kofman’s favorite memories was dancing with her Leverett House roommates to a mix of pop and hip-hop spun by friend and classmate Hanna Pak ’24. For Zafar and Uche, it was watching musician Prazul Wokhlu ’25 — who enrolled with the Class of 2024 before taking time off during the pandemic — perched with his saxophone atop the DJ stand to offer a few riffs on “Careless Whisper,” Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” and more.

“The venue was packed to the brim,” Uche said. “There were so many smiling faces, so many people singing ‘Dancing Queen’ at the top of their lungs.”

Also part of the festivities was a court of prom royalty. Jeremy Ornstein, a social studies concentrator and climate activist known for work with the Sunrise Movement, was voted king by the Class of ’24. The evening’s queen was Saylor Willauer, an applied math concentrator from Maryland who’s known about campus for running intramurals. Ironically, both pack a little extra prom experience under the crowns, having graduated from high school in 2019.

“It was just a really nice, really special thing for the class marshals to do for us,” Kofman said, of the whole evening. “I’m extremely grateful that I did get my prom in the end.”

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