HBA’s junior-senior banquet, commonly referred to as prom, was not held in a hotel or a resort this year. Instead on April 24, juniors and seniors, dressed in their formal wear, arrived at the high school mall and gym for a banquet unlike any other.

Planning this year’s banquet was much more complicated than previous years. Junior Samantha Sebastian, banquet committee chair, said that her team started planning in the beginning of November with various Covid restrictions in mind. Given the uncertainties of the pandemic, the committee had to come up with different scenarios for prom. In the case of a total lockdown or more restrictive rules, the committee planned out for a drive-through prom or even a virtual prom. Committee member Madison Duren said, “Planning was chaotic. Things were changing all the time and it felt like nothing could be set until super late. We even had to make changes to the schedule a week before prom date.”

Members of the junior class put on the final touches to the entryway to the banquet, where photographers were ready to take pictures of banquet attendees as they arrived.

The committee also had to figure out how to decorate the high school campus and provide food for everyone in a way that met safety requirements. In the C building, blue and white tulle fabric was hung from the ceiling and a blue carpet to walk down was rolled out for students as they arrived to get checked in and take pictures. Prom queen Tiffany Hamada said, “When you entered the C-building, you were surprised with a “paparazzi” where you could strike a pose.”

Down in the mall, which served as the dining area, strings of lights hung from the ceiling, above the decorated round tables. Finally, the gym was converted into a dance floor through strobe and donated Christmas lights.

Sebastian, who also helped oversee all the decorations, one of the chairs in charge of decorations, said, “After seeing the mall transformed into an illuminated hall dressed in white and blue hues of tulle, I’d say it went above and beyond my expectations.”

Banquet attendees eat their dinner in the decorated mall area.

Several precautions had to be taken when serving the food. Instead of the usual buffet line, dinner this year was served in individual bento boxes. Catered by local chef Jason Kiyota, students got to choose between a vegetarian curry or a chicken, beef, and fish bento. Drinks served were Harry Weinhard sodas, all in individual bottles. Lastly, dessert was provided by a NIU soft serve ice cream truck.

With the banquet ending up being at the HBA high school campus, several Covid precautions had to be observed. Students would enter through the front of the C building and go through the hallway on a blue carpet to create a “Secret Soiree” effect and to also help enforce social distancing. Walking down the aisle combined with the several photographers taking pictures almost gave the effect of walking down the red carpet in Hollywood. Then attendees would walk down the stairs of the C building towards the mall area. Because of social distancing rules, banquet attendees were grouped into pods of eight people. Groups made up of five pods were also formed for the various activities, such as dancing in the mall, free time with friends, and a photobooth. Students also had to have their Kogniz tracking discs and masks on at all times to create a safe environment.

Senior prom queen Tiffany Hamada and prom king Phoenyx Aguada pose for a picture after the banquet.

As with past banquets, juniors and seniors voted for their class’ prom king and queen. This year’s were Phoenyx Aguada and Tiffany Hamada. Aguada admitted that social distancing and masks made the banquet less enjoyable compared to last year’s, but added, “I’ll admit it was fun and exciting to be prom king because it’s a one in a lifetime opportunity and I’m grateful for it.”

Despite the hurdles Covid presented, the banquet was still a highlight for many students as the school year comes to a close. Sebastian said, “Once the lights on the night before prom hung and the tables were lined in rows, we all knew it was coming together. So overall, while it wasn’t the most ideal place to host prom, students and teachers smiled and laughed during the night and took pictures all around.”