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An All-Girl Princess Prom

Students at a Michigan school come together to organize a unique prom.

By the time Tharima Ahmed got to be a senior at Hamtramck High, in a culturally diverse neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, she had some definite ideas about a prom. Ahmed, a 17-year-old Bangladeshi American, and her circle of girlfriends thought of a novel way to have a prom of their own yet still follow their religious beliefs by creating a girls-only event.

In the United States, a prom refers to a formal dance for secondary school students. The prom is typically a co-ed, boy-asks-girl-on-a-date occasion that is attended by upperclassmen in the spring. Groups of young couples often have dinner at a restaurant before going to the dance. The prom is a rite of passage for many American teenagers as they prepare to go to college or begin a career.

Ahmed and her friends had dreamed of organizing a prom throughout their freshman, sophomore and junior years. In September 2011, at the start of their senior year in secondary school, Ahmed began to get serious about enacting a plan.

She brought together girls from several classes to discuss an all-girl prom. Their ethnic backgrounds included Bangladeshi, Polish, Yemeni, Bosnian and Palestinian. Some were Muslims, like Ahmed. The committee was dubbed “Princess Project 2012,” and the prom theme was “Once Upon a Dream.”

Deciding on the committee name and the theme was where the easy part ended. Next, the girls had to get permission from the school and their parents, raise money to rent a hall, decide about the decorations and contract with a local restaurant to cater the prom—all during a busy academic year.

Hamtramck is a town of about 22,500 whose original settlers were the waves of Middle Eastern and Eastern European immigrants who arrived during the 1920s and ’30s. Situated in the middle of Detroit, Hamtramck is the home of the auto industry, which provided jobs and a stable community for the newcomers. In 2010, the city’s foreign-born population stood at more than 40 percent, making it Michigan’s most internationally diverse city.

It is a city that embraced Ahmed’s plan. By early December 2011, the Hamtramck High girls were raising money by asking fellow students to pay a little extra money for the snacks the school sold “for the Princess Project.” The organizing committee also held bake sales, sent “candygrams,” sold freshly made pretzels and held other fundraisers to pay for the food, decorations and rental of the hall.

Hamtramck’s principal, Rebecca Westrate, along with several of the school’s teachers and advisers, supported the all-girl prom throughout the planning process as school sponsors.

When asked about how the boys in her class felt about the all-girl prom, Ahmed says they respected her and the other girls for making their own dream come true.

That dream came true on a night in late April when Ahmed and 120 of her friends entered the hall. Some of the girls were students from other grades and some were non-Muslims. Some were graduates who had not gone to their own school proms.

The “Princess Project 2012” theme was carried out in a fountain that lighted up and glowed with pink liquid. Pink and lavender flower decorations encircled the hall’s architectural columns, and desserts were lavishly enrobed with pink and white icing. The girls admired each other’s finery, from shoes and prom dresses to hairstyles and makeup. And they danced.

Tables of food, bought and donated, included hummus, stuffed grape leaves, shish kafta, fattoush salad, spinach and meat pies, rice and pita bread, much of it catered from the Royal Kabob, a local restaurant.

“So many of my friends couldn’t say enough about how much they were enjoying the evening,” Ahmed said afterward. To cheers and congratulations, she was pronounced Senior Queen of the prom royalty during the festivities.

Ahmed plans to use her entrepreneurial and organizational gifts at Wayne State University in Detroit, where she will study business. Although Hamtramck High’s student body held its regular co-ed prom at the end of May, there are rising sophomore, junior and senior girls already planning for the Princess Project 2013.


Chandley McDonald is a U.S. State Department writer and editor.