Memphis high school senior organizes her own prom after COVID cancels event


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Many Mid-South school districts cancelled proms again this year due to the pandemic, but one high school senior has figured out a way to make the big dance happen.  

Kelsey Bradford says she didn’t want to relive the disappointment of missing prom again this year.

“You don’t want to miss your senior prom,” she said. “You thought it would be over by now, you don’t want to miss that memory.”

So when Bradford, the senior class president at East High School in Memphis, found the pandemic cancelled the big dance again, she decided to plan her own prom.

Bradford said her mom told her she couldn’t put on a prom herself.

“I was like, why not?” she said.

The 18-year-old typed up a proposal and sent it to the Shelby County Health Department on Feb. 3, promising to meet every guideline. 

She told them the space will be at half capacity. Tables will be six feet apart, masks required. Students will have to get a COVID-19 test the week of the prom and bring their results to the door, or bring their vaccination card.

As COVID cases continue to drop, restrictions on buffets and dancing have recently been lifted, giving Bradford more freedom for fun.

“They were like, ‘Since we’re allowing wedding receptions there’s really nothing we can say that you can’t do it,'” Bradford said.

The health department said the event was approved on Feb.12. Since then, word spread fast.

Musa Khlarfat says he posted Bradford’s event flyers in his store, M&K, which sells suits and dresses for events like proms and weddings.

“Of course, we got really excited. I think that’s a really good thing what she’s doing,” Khlarfat said.

Prom brings in a big chunk of business to M&K. Last year, when COVID hit, it affected their business, “big time.” Sales dropped 80%.

While they’ve been getting out-of-state customers, a local event helps.

“We got big results,” Khlarfat said. “We have people shopping for this prom That’s been a blessing to us.”

So far, Bradford says 137 students purchased tickets. They come from different schools from across Shelby County, and some as far away as Mississippi, she said.

With help from sponsors and the ticket sales, Bradford said she’s secured the location, seating, and now she’s been mailing the tickets for the final event May 21.

Now the only thing left on her to-do list is finding a dress for the event.

Bradford didn’t expect this to be her prom story, but in this world of uncertainty, she says an unofficial prom for her fellow seniors is better than completely missing out.

“You have to make your own memories happen,” she said.

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