'People are sad, but they're excited to be part of our last prom ever at Wasson, ' said Marcellus Thomas, a 17-year-old senior who led the prom committee for several months in creating an event worthy of the ultimate send-off.
The group settled on an old Hollywood theme: 'Red carpet, flashy lights and inside it's classy and elegant, ' Thomas said.
They also opted to have a junior class court, with a prince and princess, bestowing titles normally reserved for seniors.
Junior class prince Cody Windle will head to District 49's Sand Creek High School next year - a decision with which he's made a grudging peace.
'I know in my heart that kids don't fully understand what they're going to be losing, ' said Windle, who was voted to junior class royalty midway through the gala. 'I've given a lot of my heart to my art and my practice, the time and hours, the people I've fallen in love with, and I feel like it's all being taken away from me too soon. '
Windle, who's been the lead in numerous plays and musicals, was drawn to Wasson because of its theater program.
'One more year and I was out, ' he said. 'It's tough. '
The District 11 Board of Education voted in February to close the 50-year-old school and send its faculty and roughly 850 students elsewhere. Plans are ultimately to house an alternative academic center at the Wasson facility.
After the decision to close was announced, attendance and grades began to slip. Teachers found it difficult to keep students focused and motivated.
'Morale has been an issue, with really trying to convince students that what is going on still matters. Right now, I think there's just a lot of hurt, ' said assistant principal Stacy Bush, who next year will serve as assistant principal at Mitchell High School. 'Our school is really a family, a community, and the fact that we're going to be split up and students have to go to new schools after they've gone through so much here, I think emotionally it has taken a serious toll on our students and our staff. '
The promise of an extravagant - free - prom helped boost spirits.
'I think anytime you can get together and celebrate and kids can get dressed up for such a glamorous event is a good thing, ' Bush said.
The forced transfers next fall are especially hard on juniors, who will be starting anew - socially, academically and other activities - at high schools throughout Colorado Springs.
'The seniors were leaving anyway, ' said Nicole Francesconi, who's 17 and a junior. 'We were there for three years, and now we've got to leave and start over. I'm trying to have a good attitude, but it's sad. '
Francesconi and her close friend Hannah Dailey, also 17 and a junior, will have each other to lean on next year at Mitchell, where both plan to play volleyball. The teens, at the Mining Exchange on Saturday morning to help decorate for the dance, hold no illusions about what they'll be leaving behind, though.
Said Francesconi: 'At the end of the day, Wasson is our home and everyone there is our ... '
Dailey: '... family. '
Francesconi: 'Like a giant family. It's so diverse. '
Dailey: 'Everybody talks to everybody. There aren't cliques. Nothing will be like Wasson. '
Francesconi: 'No, not the same. I'm going to cry. '
Dailey: 'Me too. '
Before Windle settled on attending Sand Creek this fall, there were days when he was so distracted with the decision that he had a hard time concentrating on anything.
'It was a huge load on my back not knowing what I was going to do next year. I wanted to take the time about that decision, but it was rough just not knowing, ' he said. 'Now, knowing where I'm going, it drives me to keep rocking through the end of the year. '
Prom had been planned for a venue at Fort Carson but, with the closing, administrators, staff and students wanted something bigger, more lavish, and were able to strike a deal with The Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand hotel, for discounted event pricing. Principal Darryl Bonds agreed to underwrite the $45 ticket prices so juniors and seniors could attend for free.
Wasson alumni were invited to join the celebration. Susan Hughes-Swank ended up there by accident, though.
'I saw the sign out front and thought, 'Oh, it's a reunion.' Then I realized it said prom and I thought, 'Wow, this is the last one,' ' the 1980 grad said. 'It was a great school. There was a lot of student pride. The football games were always packed. I can't believe how much it's changed. '
A good enough party can salve wounds.
Deejay Eliceo 'Mista Tre ' Claudio III, Wasson Class of 2000, stepped to the center of the prom floor, mic in hand.
'Let's hear it for Wasson, ' he yelled, punching the sky for emphasis, earning only weak cheers. 'As a former Thunderbird myself, I'm disappointed in that noise! '
Shamed into sound, the crowd - students, alumni and guests - responded with vigorous cheers, clapping, stomping.
'That's more like it, ' Claudio said, and cued his cohort to start the music. In seconds, gals had kicked off their pumps and the dance floor was full.
Witness, if you will, the abridged version of grief recovery: anger, frustration, acceptance - and shoes-off dancing.
'I just love prom. My friends and I are trying to not let the circumstances affect the night, ' Windle said. 'I can see my friends, have fun, and not care what anybody thinks, you know what I mean? '
The last prince of Wasson adjusted his crown, put his arm around his girl and led her to the dance floor.
Contact Stephanie Earls: 636-0364