An annual rite of passage for local high school students was a must-see attraction for hundreds of residents in downtown Columbus.

Parents, siblings and friends lined Washington Street Saturday evening to watch a parade of nearly 1,200 students from three Columbus high schools — North, East and Columbus Signature Academy — New Tech — make their grand entrances around The Commons for the joint Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. prom.

Before enjoying hours of dancing, socializing and fun inside The Commons, juniors and seniors first arrived in vehicles such as pickup trucks, a Hummer and even a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air.

Two students were pulled by a donkey down Washington Street, while other individuals found themselves in a Columbus Township fire truck or inside a school bus painted blue.

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Parents such as Jason Coryea were among those circling the block in the prom parade on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. His daughter, Courtney Coryea, a senior at Columbus North, sat behind him.

Courtney Coryea said that since this was her last prom she thought riding on the back of the motorcycle would be a fun way to arrive.

Fellow parent Sam Mills got creative and hooked up a large boat to the back of his pickup truck to transport his daughter, Ashlyn Mills, and eight other friends around the block. Sam Mills said it was the first time he had done so for his daughter, a senior at Columbus East.

“A lot of girls just wanted to have a good time,” he said.

But getting a good spot to see their son or daughter was on the minds of many parents in order to see them lined up outside The Commons. Amy Jackson, who was joined by her husband Ben, came prepared to stake out their spot with a pair of chairs to see their son, Isaac, participate in his first prom as a junior attending Columbus North.

“Events like this are an example of why we came back to raise our family because Columbus is such a special place,: she said.

Amy Jackson said prom was a special occasion not only for the community, but especially for the students.

“The kids who come to prom are the kids who like to be involved in their school, who care about their friends and care about events that are bigger than themselves,” she said.

Amy Jackson reflected on her own prom with her husband Ben in the mid-1980s, and said community support remains just as important today as it was when she attended. She added that she is looking forward to seeing her two other children, Grant, a freshman at Columbus North, and Anna, a seventh-grader at St. Bartholomew Catholic School, attend prom down the road.

“It’s kind of a rite of passage,” she said. “It’s special to our family to have those shared experiences.”

Another parent, Matthew Booth, also claimed his viewing area and was joined by his wife Rikka amid the large turnout of people along Washington Avenue. Booth said he came to get his spot with a pair of lawn chairs at 4 a.m. Saturday morning and chained the chairs to a nearby tree.

Matthew Booth said it was important to get a good spot in order to see son Nicholas, a junior at Columbus East, in line waiting to enter The Commons.

“We didn’t want to be stuck in a crowd somewhere,” Booth said.

Another parent, Sami Lawson, had a front-row seat in front of barricades separating the large crowd of students from spectators. Her daughter, Katie Lawson, will be graduating this year from Columbus East.

Lawson wiped away tears describing her thoughts knowing it was her daughter’s last prom.

“It’s very special for our kids,” Lawson said. “To see her so happy, I’m really happy for her. It’s an exciting time.”

Fun time

Inside The Commons on the second floor, the atmosphere was upbeat as students danced, took traditional prom photos at two designated areas — one of which had a gold backdrop, while the other was white — and mingled with one another.

This year’s prom theme was “Vintage Glamour,” featuring an Art Deco look.

Tables were full of snacks such as strawberry and blackberry macaroons, and cookies and pretzel sticks dipped in chocolate. A chocolate fondue station allowed students to dip mini Rice Krispie treats, cantaloupe and pineapple to create a sweet treat.

A disc-jockey on stage provided entertainment with strobe lights that kept many students shakin’ and groovin’ to the beat.

“It was a really fun time this year,” said Natasha Davis, a North senior who attended with group of eight students.

She added that it was great to spend time with friends because it was her last prom.

One of the evening’s highlights was the crowning of the king and queen for each school, which drew cheers from the audience.

Neeraj Pandita was named prom king for East, while queen was McKenna Chandler. Both said they were excited about the recognition, a sentiment also shared by the prom kings and queens from North and Columbus Signature Academy _ New Tech.

Emma Wilson, a senior at North, was named queen, while classmate Zach Green was named king. Wilson said she was pleased to have been recognized.

“I was so surprised and very humbled,” Wilson said. “It’s a great way to finish my senior year. I’ll remember it for a long time.”

Kyle Grimm and Mackenzie Walls were named king and queen for New Tech. Walls said she was shocked and overwhelmed after hearing she was selected prom queen.

Student protest

While students had fun inside The Commons, a small group of protestors stood outside with signs, such as “No Knight on Prom Night” and “Allow or Liege or We Will Siege.” The group of four individuals protested a decision to not allow East senior Mattias Memering into the prom wearing a suit of armor, said Aadan Hyatt, a fellow classmate of Memering.

Memering stood outside The Commons wearing a suit of armor and a black bowtie and stood next to Hyatt and two other individuals.

“I feel like I’m dressed up and it’s still formal,” Memering said.

School officials were aware of the protest. East Assistant Principal Charles Edwards said students are expected to be in formal attire for prom.

The four protestors were not asked to leave the area.

Students who left The Commons looked on at the group and were asked to sign posters showing their support for Memering. The group had received more than 100 signatures from prom-goers who had just left shortly after 11 p.m.

Pull Quote

“The kids who come to prom are the kids who like to be involved in their school, who care about their friends and care about events that are bigger than themselves.”

— parent Amy Jackson.

“We didn’t want to be stuck in a crowd somewhere.”

— parent Matthew Booth, referring to staking out his spot with chairs at 4 a.m. Saturday

Columbus East prom king/queen

King

Name: Neeraj Pandita

Age: 17

Residence: Columbus

Parent: Sanjay Pandita

Queen

Name: McKenna Chandler

Age: 18

Residence: Columbus

Parent: Chris Chandler

Columbus North prom king/queen

King

Name: Zach Green

Age: 18

Residence: Columbus

Parents: Darren and Carrie

Queen:

Name: Emma Wilson

Age: 18

Residence: Columbus

Parents: Scott and Julia

CSA New Tech prom king/queen

King

Name: Kyle Grimm

Age: 18

Residence: Columbus

Parents: Kathy and Alva

Queen:

Name: Mackenzie Walls

Age: 18

Residence: Columbus

Parents: Jenny and Kevin

Author photo
Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com