I went to my first high school prom 31 years ago. A lifetime ago, really. I was only a sophomore, but because my girlfriend was a senior, I was allowed to attend. I can hardly recall anything about the dance itself, but I do remember Liz looking positively gorgeous in her shiny pink dress while I sported a tacky tuxedo and a cheesy 80s hairstyle.

Travis Naughton

Or was that Molly Ringwald and Jon Cryer in “Pretty in Pink”?

Two years later, I attended my senior prom with my girlfriend Ayren. She looked absolutely amazing in her white dress while I, on the other hand, looked completely ridiculous in my all-white tuxedo and mullet haircut. I wouldn’t blame either of my beautiful dates if I were to find out that they had cut me out of their copies of our prom-night photographs.

Last Saturday, I stood in my kitchen and helped my son Alex adjust his pink bow tie, while his mother pinned his boutonnière to the lapel of his all-black suit. He looked terribly handsome. His girlfriend Sarah, his date for Southern Boone’s prom, wore a stunning dress that contrasted perfectly with Alex’s Johnny Cash-like attire. The gown was, of course, pink.

It’s comforting to know that despite changes in fashion and hair and climate and politics, some things remain the same. A young couple gets all dolled up, they exchange flowers and patiently pose for their parents who are compelled by some mysterious and natural urge to snap hundreds of photographs of the happy couple. They go out to eat at a fancy restaurant, (or Steak ‘n’ Shake in some cases). Then they congregate at a high school gymnasium that, thanks to the help of some dedicated parents and teachers, has been transformed into a magical place where refreshments are served and memories are made.

Prom signifies the beginning of the end of high school. Soon, members of the senior class will take their final exams and solidify their plans for college, trade school, or the military. In a few short weeks, they will receive their diplomas. Emotional parents will distract themselves by snapping too many graduation photos, trying in vain to halt the relentless passing of time.

Our family, like many others, has been preoccupied with our son’s final year of high school. We’ve been busy filling out paperwork for college, having senior portraits taken, making preparations for prom, mailing graduation invitations, and spending as much quality time with Alex as we can before he moves away.

For some parents, this time of year has a decidedly different feel. Paul and Cathy Schiltz, friends who lived in Ashland before moving to Fulton a couple of years ago, are also parents of a member of the class of 2019. Their son Sam, one of Alex’s closest friends, died in a tragic accident just before the start of what would have been his senior year.

When Bethany and I feel like complaining about filling out financial aid forms, addressing graduation announcements, and paying for college, we need only to stop and consider Paul and Cathy. While we are occupied with pre-prom photo sessions, important father-son talks, mother-son shopping sprees, college planning sessions, and the rest of the milestones of our son’s senior year, we know that Paul and Cathy would give anything to experience all of those things with their son.

It isn’t fair.

It isn’t fair, but I know the Schiltzes would be sorely disappointed in us if we didn’t make the most of the time we have with our children. So would our dear friends Wes and Shelly Sconce, who lost their teenaged son Braeden in a terrible accident a few months after he graduated from high school last year.

Remarkably, the Schiltz and Sconce families are stronger than ever before. And they are busy living their best lives. The same is true with the Naughton family. We know, from witnessing our friends’ heartache, that each and every moment we have together as a family is a gift—one that should never be taken for granted.

Let’s all honor the memory of Sam and Braeden by being the best parents we can be. Take too many prom pictures, address the graduation announcements, fill out the financial aid paperwork, help pay the tuition, and savor every moment we are lucky enough to spend with our kids.

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