Bringing Semi into the Future

Semi+Group+Photo

Rebecca Stratton

2019 Semi-formal was held on December 7.

Melina Robertson, Editor-in-Chief

On the night of semi-formal, the entry of Phillips was packed with students taking pictures and talking with their friends. Chaotic but also exciting and energetic, the air was filled with the calls of students to their friends and the clicking of Mrs. Rebecca Stratton’s camera. I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of people and level of activity in the hall.

The dance itself was a different story. Forty-odd students milled awkwardly around a dimly lit Frost Library as the hits of the last two decades blared around them. The turnout was better than in recent years, but the dance still felt decidedly lackluster.

So, do students really like semi? Well, some do, some don’t. A number of students I spoke with expressed affection for the event, albeit with some reservation. Semi is a  big event particularly for ninth grade girls, who gather to go through the facebook together and pick their senior dates. Semi gives them the all-consuming and anxiety-inducing opportunity to ask out a senior boy. 

Katie Storer ’20 reminisced: “Now that I’m a senior, asking people isn’t that huge of a thing, but as a freshman, I went to the dorm and all the girls were going through the facebook and picking out who they were going to ask, and I feel like that’s a cute thing.”

Katie Resnick ’20, a current proctor in Nannie B., agreed. “I definitely think there is pressure to ask someone, but I’ve been trying to make it clear to girls that they don’t have to if they don’t want to. Because I know it can be intimidating, but I would say most of them want to—you know it seems like a fun, exciting thing, especially because it seems like a very high school thing.”

Other students were more critical. One commonality among the more negative students I interviewed was the feeling that semi is just more hassle than it’s worth.

One girl commented, “I don’t want to get all dressed up to ask someone and put so much work into a poster [just to] take a picture.” Another similarly expressed: “there’s no point in really going, because we don’t do anything but take pictures.” A third called semi “kind of a waste of time.”

Many of these students noted the focus on taking pictures and lack of emphasis on the dance itself. Student attendance at school dances seems to be universally declining, and this is particularly noticeable at semi, when more than half of the student attendees take pictures for social media and leave without going to the dance. 

Another trend in my student interviews was the use of one word: tradition. One girl said that the proposal posters were “just a dumb, stupid, traditional thing.”

Another student remarked, “It’s a tradition, I guess…it’s not good or bad.”

One student was more positive. “I just think that the weird kind of like ‘why is this a tradition?’ traditions at a school…I like those traditions.”

So, what exactly is the “tradition” of semi? And how did it evolve into the event that it is today?

According to Ms. Samantha Howson, former director of student activities, when she first arrived at Governor’s over twenty years ago the semi-formal was quite different from how it is now. The dance was held mid-winter, and many of the traditions now associated with semi were yet to exist. Around twenty years ago, the dance was moved to its current weekend. At the same time, Mr. Tim Weir, the director of student activities, “brought some life” into the semi, increasing student engagement with the dance.

By the fall of 2011, semi was once again waning in popularity. Ceci Reyes ’12, the senior class president at the time, wanting to make semi an anticipated and popular event among the student body, came up with the idea of ninth-grade girls asking senior boys to semi. Students were encouraged to be as innovative as possible with their proposals, and the most creative semi proposals were recognized at morning meeting. The rise of this tradition accompanied an increase in photo-taking, although students still attended the dance. 

Although these new traditions increased popularity among students for several years, over time, attendance waned and semi evolved into the picture-taking occasion it is now. The ninth-grade girls’ proposals to the seniors are still the source of much enthusiasm in Nannie B., but many other students ask friends in any grade, or simply attend in a group. 

This year, Ms. Faith Kagwa and the student activity committee told me that their main focus regarding semi is responding to student feedback. Students complained about the hired DJ last year, so this year a student DJ’ed the dance. Students commented that there was little reason to go to the dance, so Ms. Kagwa got whoopie pies and other food for the dance itself. But did these small changes make a difference? Student attendance this year didn’t appear to be much higher than last year, and most feedback I heard was that the dance was as poorly attended and poorly-regarded as ever.

Semi is full of traditions, but at the end of the day it’s just an event, an opportunity for students to dress up and spend time with their friends. If students aren’t enthusiastic about our current traditions and ways of doing things, then we should change them. Students often complain that weekend activities and school events are boring, but we seem unwilling to do anything about it. The student body needs to be proactive and unafraid of creating new traditions that may last well into the future. Semi feels tired because it is tired, and we need to be willing to put in the effort to reinvigorate it, and make it an event that our student body can get excited about.