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Roughing It on Prom Night

A group of 40 Lake Braddock students decide to camp out in the backyard after dancing in formal wear all night.

They may have had fancy limousines, a nice dinner and glamorous evening wear, but that didn't mean 40 Lake Braddock students had to sleep in luxury too.

Instead of getting fancy hotel rooms or sleeping in the comfort of their own beds, the group of friends attending the prom together decided to set up tents in one of their backyards. One tent looked too small to fit even one person, another was big enough for seven or eight and there were several tents big enough for three or four people. Allison Smith's back yard, equipped with a pool and a fire pit, was the perfect setting for the temporary camp site. The large property in Fairfax Station has plenty of yard space, and is surrounded by trees on all sides. Allison Smith's mother, Wanda, said she would probably stay up most of the night to make sure everything would run smoothly, since so many teenagers would be sleeping in her backyard.

"I think they're just going to chill and spend their last night bonding," said Wanda Smith. "Their parents are happy to know where they're [children] going to be."

The group took three limousines to the prom. One was a 1957 Chevy stretch limousine, the other was a typical Lincoln stretch and the biggest limousine, the Hummer stretch, chauffeured about half of the group to dinner and then to the prom.

"This is the biggest [prom group] we've ever seen," said Cindy Whalen, as her son, Jeff, rode off in one of the limousines.

The Hyatt Regency Hotel in Reston started filling up with Lake Braddock juniors and seniors around 10 p.m. Mark Purdy, the senior class sponsor, had been there since the late afternoon making sure everything was in order. He personally went out and bought special "girlie" hand soaps for the bathrooms, and he even bought corsages for all of the female faculty members who helped out that night. He also made sure the prom theme, "Reflections," was evident. Students created collages of pictures, some from senior year and some from their childhood, which decorated each table as part of the centerpieces. Black and gold balloons filled the ballroom, adding to the elegance of the dimly-lit ballroom.

MANY STUDENTS ARRIVED in limousines, some drove themselves and one group decided to stand apart from the crowd by showing up in a horse-drawn carriage.

"We wanted to be original," said Serena Epstein, who booked the horse and carriage online.

"Well, we didn't want to get a limo," said Emily Mineart. "Everyone does a limo."

Mineart's father, Gary, waited near the entrance to the hotel to give his daughter her prom ticket. He had just arrived at Dulles from a business trip, and wanted to get a peek at his daughter on prom night since he missed the pre-prom festivities earlier at his home. As he waited for Emily's horse and carriage to come around the corner, he said his prom in the mid-1970s was much more modest.

"It was in the high school gym, and there were parents sitting in the bleachers," said Gary Mineart. "It's certainly different than my time."

A couple of other women wanted some originality out of their prom night as well. Mimi Oo and Mireille Cecil said they weren't staying at the actual prom for very long. They were going to snack on some of the food, dance for a little while with some of their friends before heading to downtown Washington to check out a new Indian-French fusion restaurant and lounge. The girls came to the prom as each other's dates, since Oo said her boyfriend is older than 21, the maximum age limit allowed to enter the prom under county law. Cecil said she just didn't want to have anything to do with the insanity of prom.

"I know somebody whose $800 in the hole for this [prom]," said Cecil. "I got my prom shoes for $14 at Marshall's."