Michael Bamberger, a senior reporter for Sports Illustrated, is the author of Wonderland: A Year in the Life of an American High School, in which he examines the prom at one Pennsylvania high school.
Why did you write the book?
I saw a news snippet about a school in the Philadelphia suburbs that still held its prom in the high-school gym. I saw these kids marching into the school and hundreds of people watching and cheering and wondered, Who are these people? How did those kids get there, what will they do there, what will they do when the party's over...
Why is prom night such an unforgettable event?
It's often the first adult thing a high school kid ever does: put on cologne or perfume, a tux or a gown, drive there in a clean and shiny car. Nobody ever forgets the name of his or her prom date, often followed by, "Whatever happened to..."
Do teenagers put too much emphasis on the prom?
No — the spending is a little crazy, but they often earn the money themselves. I think it's a civilized society that marks occasions, that says one day is more important than another.