The Class of Quarantine 2020 showed off its gowns and royal court at Spangdahlem Exchange during a creative spin on prom night.
Seniors from Spangdahlem High School in Germany initially requested off in April to attend prom, but COVID-19 forced cancellation of the big event. Food Court Manager Michelle Hetcher, who has worked at the Exchange for 24 years, wanted to find a way to still deliver the experience for the teens, knowing how much her own prom meant to her.
“I talked to my assistant manager and one of my supervisors saying we should do something for them because I know how important prom is, I was my senior prom queen in ‘89. I told them we should do something here — at least vote for a queen and king because I know how cool it is to wear the crown,” she said.
The team made a drawing box for Exchange employees to vote, and on the day of the event the empty dining room was turned into a dance floor with songs like “The Twist” by Chubby Checker. Though students couldn’t work shifts in formal wear, everyone coordinated attire after festivities ended.
“We had a crown for them and food, and they got to come to work in their dresses and the guys got to dress up. And then the dress code for the rest of the day was everybody had on — the managers and supervisors included — we had on blue jeans and a white shirt,” Hetcher said.
Prom queen Andrea Mercado, 18, has lived at Spangdahlem Air Base for four years. Though she already has plans to attend college for criminology, she first wanted to enjoy the pomp and circumstance of finishing high school.
“Coming into my senior year, I was really excited for all of the activities that seniors do as far as senior trips, senior skip day, pep rallies and when we started realizing that school could be moving forth online rather than in person, we were anxious about it. One thing that we really looked forward to was prom and when we got the final OK that it wouldn’t happen, it was really upsetting. I feel like prom is a very big occasion for a senior, being the last big event before graduation. It’s like our final goodbye with all of our friends, saying goodbye to 12 years of hassle and trying to get through school work,” she said.
Though the school year is ending in a different way, Mercado said it was nice to know her co-workers wanted to do something special for her.
“To be able to put on my dress and dance with some of my fellow co-workers and eat and just have laughs, was very memorable and special to me, especially putting on a dress that I spent a lot of money on for that occasion. It was nice to know it didn’t get wasted,” she said.
Mercado’s twin brother, Andres, has worked at the Exchange for almost a year. After high school, he plans to serve in the Air National Guard while attending college, then pursue a commission. He says he is grateful to AAFES for the “nice gesture” that gave his co-workers the opportunity to have this moment.
“I deeply respected it and appreciated it because it was an act that our job didn’t have to do. We the seniors at the Exchange had the ability to feel that moment that many of us were hurting about because it was lost,” he said.
When COVID-19 forced the world to change, 18-year-old Tahlia Mower says she was in denial.
“It was all so surreal; I didn’t think any of this was really happening. It’s just been very emotional because we’ve all been waiting for this year. For me personally, the emotional part was I didn’t get my last year of soccer,” Mower, who has played the sport for eight years, said.
She added that the Exchange’s prom experience was “very sweet and thoughtful,” especially since the girls, in particular, were really looking forward to wearing their dresses.
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