AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Google promposal (ph), and you'll quickly go down a rabbit hole of elaborate prom invitations - dance routines, prom spelled out on donuts or with sushi, lots of signs and getting down on one knee. Promposals are a big deal in a lot of high schools. The tradition has been growing at Berkeley High School in Berkeley, Calif. Youth Radio reporter Natalie Bettendorf sent us this story.
ANGELO PARAISO-ARROYO: Do you know where the big stuffed animals are?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I would check in toys.
NATALIE BETTENDORF, BYLINE: Promposals season is a staple of spring time on Berkeley High's campus. I decided to go behind the scenes, tagging along with my friend Angelo Paraiso-Arroyo on his quest to prompose.
PARAISO-ARROYO: Is this bear big enough?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Do you want to go get a bigger bear?
PARAISO-ARROYO: We didn't find any bigger bears. We can go to Costco.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: You could go to Costco. They're like huge ones, but I'm pretty sure they're pretty expensive.
PARAISO-ARROYO: Yeah, it's big enough.
BETTENDORF: Angelo and a few close friends are picking up 28 pieces of poster board, permanent markers and a big bag of Kit Kats.
PARAISO-ARROYO: It shows, like, you mean business when you do something in an extravagant way.
BETTENDORF: Promposals at my school have become an arms race. The student leadership team hosts a competition every year. Whoever comes up with the most extravagant promposal wins two free tickets to prom - a cash value of $130.
JOHN VILLAVICENCIO: I think initially - aw, that's really cute - seeing those acts of teenage love is kind of, like, memories and nostalgic.
BETTENDORF: That's Mr. V aka John Villavicencio. He directs student activities at Berkeley High School. Mr. V says the faculty feels conflicted about promposals.
VILLAVICENCIO: As it grew, I think they started to see, like, a slightly darker side of like, oh, now they're, like, more focused on this act rather than their academics.
BETTENDORF: One of the most surprising things about these over-the-top displays of love is they're not actually about love.
So I am out here in the Berkeley High courtyard, and we're standing on the steps where Angelo is about to prompose to Maxine. All right, are you feeling nervous? What are you feeling?
PARAISO-ARROYO: I'm not really nervous.
BETTENDORF: He seems pretty nervous. And with about a thousand of our classmates standing around to watch, I can understand why. When Maxine Bartu (ph), the girl he's about to ask to prom, eventually emerges from our school, the crowd explodes.
BETTENDORF: A DJ blasts her favorite song, and she covers her face from embarrassment as she walks across the quad, collecting roses from friends. When she gets to Angelo, something happens that's pretty hard to hear.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Inaudible).
BETTENDORF: A bunch of students chant, kiss, kiss, kiss. And they do. But here's the thing. Maxine and Angelo aren't actually a couple. They're just friends. Two friends smooching for free prom tickets - it's kind of fake. But I'm still a fan of promposals because when I think back on electricity in the air, the cheering crowd, it feels special. And that will stay with me even after prom and high school have ended and real life begins. For NPR News, I'm Natalie Bettendorf.
CORNISH: That story was produced by Youth Radio.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO YOU WANNA DANCE - FROM THE ROCK 'N' ROLL HIGH")
THE RAMONES: (Singing) Do you want to dance and hold my hand? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.