From Homecoming to field trips, the Covid-19 pandemic has stolen quite a bit of the typical senior year experience from the graduating class of 2021.

At Wharton High, senior Taryn Bartley was determined that it wouldn’t steal the senior prom, too.

Taryn didn’t know if her fellow classmates would even be interested in attending a prom planned by another student, so she took to Instagram and posted a poll asking Wharton seniors if they would go, where they would want the prom to be held, and how much they would be willing to spend on a ticket.

Taryn Bartley

“I got 144 responses to that survey,” she says, “and it snowballed from there.”

After touring a few venues, she chose The Italian Club in Ybor City and set the date for May 28. She drafted rules, like no alcohol and identification being required, and only sold tickets to students whose parents signed a form acknowledging the rules.

While school prom committees typically spend all year planning for the big day, Taryn had just 44 days from the day she posted the survey until the day the prom was held. Her mom Amy provided guidance and signed the contracts with vendors, and they benefited from Taryn’s older sister’s experience, who helped plan the Wharton prom two years before.

Taryn knew she needed to sell at least 100 tickets to have enough money to rent the venue. An additional 40 tickets would allow her to hire a deejay.

She was told a typical Wharton prom often has about 300 or 350 students attending, so she was thrilled when she sold 201 tickets.

Then, her mom says, “She worked really hard to spend all the money because she didn’t want to make a profit.”

Taryn held the event the day after graduation. She didn’t want any repercussions from the school for students who attended, and wanted to minimize the chance that anyone might have to quarantine due to exposure to Covid at the prom.

“If I was the reason someone couldn’t walk at graduation, I would have felt terrible,” Taryn says.

The night of the event, Taryn’s parents and a couple of other adults took over as chaperones so she could enjoy herself, going out to dinner in a party bus with friends.

But first, they gathered at the Hunter’s Green Captain Nathaniel Hunter Park with dozens of others, taking pictures as they’ve done for many other events over the years.

“We’ve all gone to school with most of these people our whole lives,” says Taryn. “We’ve added more people as you go on, but there are a lot of the same people, and it was really nice to have everyone together.”

Officially, Wharton did offer some activities to replace prom, so Taryn also was careful to include the school’s student-elected prom court in her event.  

“Out of 10 members of the prom court, we had eight of them come to our prom,” she says. The two who were missing participated in a separate prom organized by different students and parents.

Taryn says that all of the hard work definitely was worth it. “I think it turned out great,” she says. “It really came together like a last hurrah.”

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