Bayside High and senior center celebrate 80th birthdays with prom

By Patrick Donachie

The overhead lights of the auditorium in Bayside’s Selfhelp Clearview Senior Center had been dimmed to strike the mood for the senior prom. Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E” faded in over the speakers as students from Bayside High School slow danced with senior citizen community members. Erin Brennan, the senior center’s program director, beamed as a student and a senior shuffled together on the dance floor.

“It’s like it was meant to be,” she said.

Brennan was referring to the fact that Bayside High School and the senior center both reached their 80th anniversaries this year. In November, students from the school approached Brennan about collaborating on a celebration of the dual milestones, and the idea of throwing a prom for both the students and the center’s senior visitors took root.

James Pen, one of the prom’s attendees, came clad for the occasion in a sharp tuxedo. He said he had lived in Douglaston for decades and worked in the jewelry business before he retired. Now, he helps to lead the center’s ballroom dancing classes.

“I think when the seniors mix with the juniors,” he said, “you feel even younger.”

It took a day for the students to prepare the auditorium, as they set up arrays of decorations and blew up balloons that they tied to the centerpieces of each table. Servers clad in black shirts and ties brought multiple courses of food for the guests, and there was a photo booth in the corner of the room with an assortment of silly glasses and hats for people to pose with during pictures.

The dozens of students on hand filled other roles during the party. Some took photos and video of the festivities, while others helped to serve beverages, take coats and find dance partners. Saud, a freshman at Bayside High, was assigned to making sure the guests had whatever they needed, and he was impressed by the dance skills on display from both the students and the seniors.

“There are some really great dancers,” he said. “They really came prepared.”

The music ran the gamut of decades and styles, from “Shout” by the Isley Brothers to “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)” from Silentó, and several of the senior guests stayed out for the latter song to learn the moves. After dinner and dessert, the party ended with some trivia of classic films and music as well as the inevitable crowning of the prom’s king and queen, Chine Lee and Tina Chan.

During one of the few songs when he could not be found on the dance floor, Pen said he was impressed by the work the students had done. He thought the size and scale of the event was beyond the usual, even for the senior center.

“In my memory, this is the first time there’s been anything like this,” he said, surveying the crowd of revelers. “They mingle together, the young and the old. I love it.”

Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdonachie@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.