By now, the majority of society knows that attending a high school prom is quite the expense. And for what? The extravagant dress is worn for a measly few hours and planning transportation is super stressful; it’s one blasé night of your life. When you truly think about the meaning of prom…well, there is no meaning.
But everyone has the power to turn a traditional, wildly overrated event into something having an authentic purpose. High school teen Aubrey Headon did just that. She didn’t simply make her prom her own special night though; she took the time to make an incredible statement about a neglected part of her community.
This is Illinois high schooler Aubrey Headon. Just as most upperclassmen at Rochelle Township High School do, the teen track star attended her prom; but when she arrived, she didn’t exactly appear as your typical black-tie-attire-dressed prom attendee.
While some teens seek out dresses that will flatter their figure or impress their judgmental fellow peers (you know how high school is), miss Aubrey was inspired to dress for a completely unexpected reason.
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She loved to give back, and after a chance encounter with Gretchen Catherwood and her husband Kirk, Aubrey started getting involved in their non-profit, the Darkhorse Lodge. She was inspired by Aubrey’s story.
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You see, Gretchen, the Gold Star mom, was so dedicated to building U.S. vets a calming retreat because she herself lost a son, U.S. Marines lance corporal Alec Catherwood, to Afghanistan in 2010.
Alec Catherwood was a part of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, which was dubbed 3/5 or Darkhorse, hence the name of the combat veterans retreat. These brave Marines fought in battle between September 2010 and April 2011.
Marine Corps veteran Jerry Oleson, a family friend of Alec and Gretchen’s, confirmed forthcoming Darkhorse projects: “It’s our goal to have 5 cabins, each with 5 rooms, each room named after one of those marines that Alec had served with, and to serve combat veterans for a week,” Oleson said. Aubrey supported the mission whole-heartedly.
Working with Darkhouse made Aubrey feel like she was really giving back. In fact, she started running an annual fundraiser to raise money for the lodge and their endeavors.
After having sold t-shirts she handcrafted for her October 2018 fundraiser, Aubrey was able to give Darkhorse an impressive $2,133. Not bad for a teenage girl with heaps of motivation.
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The thought of honoring the tragic losses of soldiers who fought for America meant the world to Aubrey. The youthful Illinoisian was concerned that these fallen soldiers would “fade to nothing” in the busy, occupied minds of the public.
Well, for the next two years she spent a lot of time making sure that didn’t happen. Clearly, Aubrey was beyond her years, assuring that her peers would open their eyes to who fought to keep their country safe.
So how was Aubrey going to pay a tribute to these fallen soldiers during prom, you may be wondering? Well, within those two years prior to the highly anticipated event, she sewed and embroidered her little heart out to later reveal a patriotic masterpiece.
Aubrey’s nationalistic dress stunned everyone, as the detailed ribbons, color scheme, and heartening concept struck a chord in those around her, as well as those across social media.
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Her ensemble, which was constructed to resemble an American flag, commemorated specifically those 25 fallen Marines belonging to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines.
She devoted so much time to preparing her dress, hand embroidering all 25 names of the Marines across the red, white, and black ribbons that gracefully fell along the skirt of the gown.
Along with those heroes, she also honored Rochelle Township High alumnus Tyler Smith. Tyler was a member of the Illinois Army National Guard and had tragically died in a drowning casualty.
“I wanted to wear this tribute dress to my senior prom so the memories of the guys who fell in Afghanistan for our right to live how we do and do what we do every day is carried on,” Aubrey said. But that wasn’t all she did.
Aubrey also built a three-panel bristol board poster, which carefully illustrated the names of the 25 Marines in the Battalion. Each photo on the board coordinated with a caption about who each soldier was.
To her delight, Aubrey received a massive amount of encouraging messages from strangers and friends alike. People have thanked her for her “gallant gesture,” and some responses truly touched her heart.
“The biggest response has been from Gold Star families, thanking me for remembering their loved ones,” a grateful Aubrey explained to reporters.
Aubrey sacrificed her own vanity and selfdom often associated with prom to bring awareness and dignity to a group that sacrificed their lives for America. She’s not the only teen headed to prom who used the big night to pass on a powerful message, either…
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16-year-old Catherine Malatesta looked gorgeous for her junior prom in her beautiful dark blue dress and braided updo. Yet the fact that she was able to attend the prom at all was something of a miracle.
You would never be able to tell from Catherine’s lovely smile, but just a few months before the junior prom, Catherine started her treatment for stage 4 cancer. She had just been released from the hospital the night before and said that it was the first time in a long time that she felt beautiful.
Before her diagnosis, Catherine was highly active in sports, and she initially thought that that the pain in her shoulder was due to injury.
But she was soon diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma, a form of cancer that affects about one in ten million people. By then, it had already spread to her spine and lungs.
Catherine kept a positive, upbeat attitude throughout her chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy treatment, and went to school as much as she could. She even ran for student council president, winning the election after recording her speech from the hospital room.
Sadly, just two months after the prom, Catherine passed away. But her grieving friends found a special way to memorialize her that she would have truly approved of in every way.
After finding Catherine’s blue embroidered gown in her bedroom, they decided to wear the dress to their own proms to honor their lost friend. In reference to the popular book The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Catherine’s mom named the idea “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Prom Dress.”
The first friend to wear the dress was Jillian Danton, who played ice hockey and field hockey with Catherine. Jillian was a year behind Catherine in school and said that Catherine was like a big sister to her.
Catherine’s mother said that she is able to take comfort in the touching gesture of her late daughter’s friends. She appreciates the way her daughter’s friends have worked to keep her memory alive.
Three of Catherine’s friends will wear the dress in the near future, with a tailor helping fit each girl into the dress. With every prom, they honor the memory of a friend lost far too soon.