By Yelitza Valencia
While graduation is usually viewed as the high point of high school, most students also look forward to senior events like prom and grad night. But the high cost of these events place a heavy financial burden on students and parents, especially in a low-income neighborhood like Boyle Heights.
The biggest cost for a high school senior is typically the prom, a formal dance usually held at a fancy outside venue. According to the 2015 Visa Prom Spending Survey, the average U.S. high school senior spends $919 on his or her prom. This can be difficult for a family in Boyle Heights, where the median household income of $33,235, among the lowest in Los Angeles, according to Census data.
For seniors in Boyle Heights, a prom ticket ranges from $95 at Óscar de la Hoya Ánimo Charter High School to $130 at Roosevelt.
Out of several choices given by advisers, Bravo students chose to have their prom at the Wallis Annenberg Hall at USC. “Early bird” tickets cost $115 and regular tickets $125. Their peers at Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School had to come up with $100 for their prom at Almansor Court in Alhambra. VIP packages, which include photo and preferred seating, went for $130.
Students in Boyle Heights actually paid more for their prom tickets than some peers in more affluent neighborhoods. Seniors at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles paid $90 for their prom at Disneyland.
Purchasing a prom ticket is just the beginning. To prepare for prom, a girl often buys a dress, hires a makeup artist and has her nails and hair done. A boy rents or buys a tux, buys a corsage for his date and sometimes rents a limo for the day and arranges to have professional photographs taken.
Elida Palucho’s family is spending about $400 on her prom. “My mom never got to go to her prom, and she tells me she regrets it, [so I should] enjoy my prom,” says the Bravo senior.
Ulysess Cruz, a senior at Bravo, finds the price of prom overwhelming. “Every little thing adds up to the point where the cost becomes substantial,” he says.
Another popular senior event is grad night, usually a trip to Disneyland or another local amusement park. In Boyle Heights, grad night tickets range from $90 at Mendez to $120 at Roosevelt.
Besides prom and grad night, other senior expenses can include buying school memorabilia, such as the popular hoodies with school logos, which cost between $20 and $35, and purchasing a yearbook, which can cost up to $120.
Jessica Rojas, a prom committee member at Bravo Medical Magnet High School, says the price of tickets at her school was based on how much the class had been able to fundraise throughout the four years in high school–and how much the chosen venue costs.
“Those expenses are chosen by the students and are not required,” says Rojas. “Some students decide to spend an abundant amount of money on those things, and some don’t.”
But Margarita Villafuerte, a senior at Bravo, says peer pressure leads some students to spend more than they can afford. “Senior year is really expensive, but no one wants to be the one who doesn’t have what everyone else has,” says Villafuerte.
Even graduating can be costly. At the beginning of the school year, students are required to pay senior dues, which give students discounts for future senior events, like the senior barbeque and picnic.
In some schools, the senior dues include the cost of the graduation cap and gown and the panorama picture, while other schools offer a variety of packages with extras that can add up to more than $500.
Teacher Eduardo Molina, the senior class sponsor at Roosevelt, encourages students to spend the minimum amount possible. “I believe the essential items which a student should buy are senior dues, cap and gown and yearbook,” Molina said.
The “bargain” school for graduating seniors in Boyle Heights is Méndez, where seniors pay $380 for a package that includes senior dues, cap and gown, yearbook, prom ticket and other senior activities. Comparable packages go for as much as $536.83 at Bravo, $430 at Roosevelt and $420 at Óscar de la Hoya. West L.A.’s Hamilton is still cheaper at $410.
Leticia Castro says the graduation expenses of her youngest daughter Stephanie Muñoz, a senior at Méndez, are still “exaggeratedly expensive.” [exageradamente caros]
Castro, a single mother of three, paid $150 for a package that includes a cap and gown rental. “At the end she won’t get to keep it,” she notes. “She’ll have to return it.” [Al final no va a ser todo para ella, lo va a tener que devolver].
After paying for the grad night and prom tickets, and extras like a dress and shoes, Castro estimates she will spend more than $500 on her daughter’s last days in high school.
“At one point I thought she would not be able to go, because we don’t have much money, but she is excited about the prom,” the mother says. “My oldest daughter, who enjoyed all that when she graduated, wanted Stephanie to have those memories.”
[“Yo pensé en algún momento que no iba a poder ir, porque no tenemos mucho dinero, pero ella tiene mucha ilusión de ir al baile’, dice la madre. ‘Mi hija mayor la que ya se graduó hizo todo eso, ella lo disfrutó y quiere que Stephanie lo tenga en sus recuerdos.”
Castro worked extra hours to afford the expenses and also got help from her only son–who opted not to go to prom when he graduated from Roosevelt.
“It’s tradition more than anything, what society expects, because she is going to graduate. She wants to go to her prom. She wants to be seen. She wants to look pretty,” the mom says. “But I know that it won’t help her at all with her education.”
[“Es más que nada la tradición, lo típico que la sociedad espera, porque se va a graduar, quiere ir al baile su prom, se quiere lucir, se quiere ver bonita”, dice la mamá. “Pero yo sé que para su educación no le sirve para nada”.]
FOR A GRAPHIC:
Common Costs for a Senior at Bravo High School
Prom ticket $115
Prom Total $410
Other Senior expenses:
Senior dues $135
Grad Night ticket 106
Senior Picnic 35
Senior pictures 85
Cap and Gown 81
Grand Total $912