Kevin Riordan: Today's prom invitations dramatic in scale, ambition

Pat Burns left this invitation on a fence for Kelly Nelson to the Haddon Township High School prom. He used plastic foam cups to form the letters.
Pat Burns left this invitation on a fence for Kelly Nelson to the Haddon Township High School prom. He used plastic foam cups to form the letters. (KEVIN RIORDAN / Staff)
Posted: March 06, 2013

Kelly Nelson was rather expecting her best friend, Pat Burns, to ask her to the Haddon Township High School prom.

She knew his words would be sweet.

But they certainly weren't short. And that was just the start of the surprise.

"My mouth dropped open," says Nelson, 18, in describing her reaction to the 8-by-80-foot invitation she encountered on her way to school Monday: "Kelly Prom? [heart] Pat."

Burns, 18, built the display by inserting individual plastic foam cups into a chain-link fence along Crystal Lake Avenue. It took him two hours.

"I bought basically every single cup they had at Target," says the lanky soccer player, who even at 6-foot-3 needed a ladder to finish the tops of the letters. "It wasn't really complicated."

High school proms are far more elaborate affairs than in my day, when we danced in the gym while someone spun 45s. Haddon Township's junior-senior bash is May 17 at the Westin in Mount Laurel.

Prom invitations, assistant principal Andrew Swiecicki notes, "have gotten more creative" as well.

(Indeed. Who could forget last year's epic YouTube campaign by Glassboro High School junior Leon Purvis to persuade Justin Bieber to attend his prom? The pop star didn't show, but the indefatigable Purvis has invited Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas this year.)

"It's how they do it now," says Dotti Valenza, 75, a Marlton resident who works in the Tap Room on Crystal Lake Avenue, across from the display Burns built.

Her grandson recently asked a girl to the Shawnee High School prom by showing up after her ballet performance with a bouquet and a sign.

The ways of the modern prom "are great," says Valenza, whose own gala was held at Camden Catholic High School back when it was still in downtown Camden.

Burns, who met Nelson when the two were kindergarten classmates at the township's Van Sciver School, said he wanted to do something "big and memorable" for her.

So the sign on the fence wasn't all.

Nelson's mother, who was in on the plan, was driving her daughter to school and pulled over in the Tap Room parking lot to make sure her daughter could see the entire display.

Burns was waiting nearby with a bouquet and a question.

"Of course," Nelson says, "my answer was yes."


Contact Kevin Riordan at 856-779-3845 or kriordan@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @inqkriordan. Read the Metro columnists' blog, "Blinq," at www.phillynews.com/blinq.

 

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