Sharing the prom experience

MARSHALL – Prom is certainly one of those occasions where memories are made. And while everyone sets out to look their best and have a good time, a few remarkable people recently went that extra mile to help put a smile on someone else’s face.

Marshall High School junior Mara Morrill and senior Chris Carpenter broke the typical prom couple mold this year by sharing the experience with another schoolmate.

“I had been thinking about inviting Tommy (Clark, a special education student at MHS),” Morrill said. “I just wanted to make him feel special.”

Carpenter had asked Morrill to prom a year ago, but since she was only a sophomore, she was unable to attend prom at MHS, where only juniors and seniors are allowed to attend.

“I told Chris I would go this year, and he kept our promise,” Morrill said. “He’s a really nice guy.”

Knowing that Carpenter was a good guy, Morrill decided to ask him how he felt about her having two dates at prom.

“I asked Chris if he’d mind if I walked down twice for the grand march and he said it depended,” Morrill said. “I told him I wanted to take Tommy Clark and Chris said he thought it was a great opportunity.”

After being encouraged by Carpenter, Morrill then ran it by Clark’s mother, knowing well that her own parents, Dale and Tracy Morrill, would support her decision.

“I went to where Tommy’s mom worked and asked her,” Morrill said. “She started to cry and then I started to cry, too.”

When Julie Kent, Tommy’s special education teacher at MHS, found out, she also shed some tears.

“I’m also like his mom, so I, too, thought it was cool,” Kent said. “I’ve had other special ed kids go to prom, but it’s usually as a (special education) couple or as an individual. A lot of times, they’ll go to the dance.”

For Clark, who communicates through limited sign language, the situation was a little bit different.

“He communicates using a version of signing that works for him,” Kent said. “He also makes noises and you can read how he’s feeling by body language. When she had breaks during classes, Mara would bop in and talk with the kids. We have a couple of kids who do that.”

Over time, Morrill and Clark developed a unique connection.

“I visit all the special ed kids in the room,” she said. “Every time I’d see Tommy, he’d kind of glow. It’s so sweet.”

Before prom, Morrill selected a sparkly, silver gray dress and Clark got fitted for a tux, as did Carpenter.

“My dress was like an iridescent color, like liquid metal,” Morrill said. “Chris had a blue tux, white shirt, silver shoes with a plum handkerchief and tie. I’m an artist so I can compromise those colors pretty well. Tommy wore black and black and looked really good.”

When Clark first saw Morrill, he got kind of bashful and turned away for a few moments. But he got comfortable shortly after that. After word about three-person couple got around, Sean Carmody, owner of Blue Ribbon Carriage Service, offered to provide a horse and carriage ride free of charge, from Morrill’s home to MHS.

“One of our past neighbors heard about us doing this for Tommy and wanted to know if we wanted to ride to prom in a horse and carriage,” Morrill said. “So all three of us got a ride. It was so much fun. Once we got in, Tommy would not stop laughing and smiling.”

The week of prom, Morrill said she and Clark had practiced walking through the grand march scenario a few times. During prom, Kent was on-hand, not just to assist her student, but to also watch him have the time of his life.

“The reason we know he had a great time was that he had a big smile on his face,” Kent said. “He loved walking through. I left him at the beginning of the grand march so I could see him. He was having a blast. He was waving at everyone.”

Kent said Morrill would prompt Clark to stop at the picture sites and then engage the crowd.

“It was really fantastic,” Kent said. “It was a happy, happy day for him.”

After walking through the grand march with Clark, Morrill walked through a second time with Carpenter.

“Going to the dance would’ve been too much and the after-prom was out of the question, but Tommy loved walking through the grand march,” Kent said. “It was pretty awesome.”

Only two issues arose during the evening, those involved said.

“When we practiced, Tommy and Mara would walk through a couple of times,” Kent said. “When he got done, he wanted to do it again. He was determined to walk through again.”

The second issue involved the fire alarms going off, which startled Clark.

“The whole experience, I thought, went pretty smoothly, except when the fire alarm went off,” Morrill said. “Organizers didn’t think about the fog machine affecting the fire alarms. Tommy was scared and almost darted off. I had to hug him and keep him calm. But overall, it was a lot of fun.”