Homecoming 2: Judgement Day

Students and faculty talk about pressures surrounding Homecoming formal and their opinions on the Homecoming “ask culture.”


Illustrations by Sophia Evans and Amelia Chiarelli

An illustration depicts a torn Homecoming banner with roses, representing the elaborate ways that students ask potential dates to the dance.

Averie Perrin, Assistant Features Editor

As “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” boomed on the speakers, Jack Austen ’23 stood on the Quad in a red, inflatable lobster costume in front of Head Prefect Yoshimi Kimura ’23. Next to him stood Kimura’s friends and fellow prefects holding signs with lobster puns like “I’d be a shell of a man if you said no” and “I’m cray(fish) for you.” He said he felt nervous and already embarrassed as a crowd of observers gathered around him. Austen was asking his girlfriend of almost one year to the Homecoming Formal. As the boyfriend of a Head Prefect, he was participating in a tradition of public Homecoming asks for members of the Prefect Council, informally commencing what is known as “ask season.”

Austen said he felt pressure to do an over the top ask for Kimura because of this tradition but regards it as an overall positive experience.

“I would have wanted to do a Homecoming ask anyway,” Austen said. “Rather, I wanted to ask Yoshi to Homecoming anyway. I was pressured to make it a big thing, but in the end, it was really fun.”

Austen said he wanted to make his ask entertaining and also personal to Kimura because it was in front of the whole school.

“Yoshi had mentioned that week that she really liked this giant stuffed lobster that was in Dr. [Tina] McGraw’s office, so I decided to do an ask about that lobster and crustaceans in general,” Austen said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do [a big ask] if I had done it in a very serious way, but I think by making it very light hearted and clearly, intentionally corny, that was better.”

Students reflect on the social pressures of Homecoming

Izzy Kashper ’24 began dating her boyfriend of one year, Echo Caise ’24, after his Homecoming ask. 

“I thought that they were really cheesy, corny and performative,” Kashper said. “I always had that opinion, and I’m very defiant, so I was sure that I would never be swooned by an ask. I didn’t understand why people would want to show their affection or show their interest in someone publicly. I thought that that only made things less real and less intimate and less sweet.

However, Kashper said when Caise surprised her with a personalized sign and candy, her opinion on asks changed.

“I had what HW people call a “stranger ask” because I didn’t know the person who asked me, which was kind of fantastical, and it was sweet,” Kashper said. “When I was asked unexpectedly, he just showed up to me with a poster and I turned around on the stairs. I literally teared up. I was so excited. I squealed. I hugged this guy that I didn’t know at all, so it kind of does take over you, despite your better judgment.”

Kashper said that while she recognizes the pressure students feel about Homecoming, she is also thankful for the big ask culture because of the way it forced her out of her comfort zone.

“There is a lot of unnecessary pressure for kids to find someone to go with,” Kashper said. “A lot of girls and guys probably relate to the desperation that Homecoming can cause, and I know a lot of my friends feel that way now. In some ways, I think it’s wonderful because it’s what forced me to get out there. I don’t know if I ever would have had feelings or get out there to talk to someone had it not been for the culture of Homecoming.”

Kashper said Homecoming stress is different for people in relationships.

“Being in a relationship lifts the pressure off of Homecoming, and it also puts the pressure [on] an ask,” Kashper said. “I am planning to do an ask for Echo, probably. He has coerced me into asking him. He refuses to ask me because he thinks we need to trade off, but I think that’s good.”

Jake Lancer ’24 said many guys feel pressure to ask someone to Homecoming, regardless of their relationship to the person.

“From a guy’s perspective, if all their friends are asking people, they may ask someone and maybe don’t even like the person that they’re asking,” Lancer said. “They just don’t want to be left out.”

Lancer said he would only do a big ask under certain conditions because of the judgment he could face from others. 

“I would only ask someone if I knew beforehand that there would be a ‘yes’ because I’m not trying to embarrass myself on a full stage like that,” Lancer said. “I might do a big ask if I was a senior, but I feel like in the school culture, it’s weird for a junior or sophomore to do something big.”

Lancer said he can feel the anxiety about asking someone increasing in the school community as it gets closer to Homecoming. 

“It’s funny because I hadn’t really thought about [Homecoming] at all, and then two days ago someone brought it up, and five different people have now brought it up,” Lancer said. “I feel like it’s definitely amping up, and I am still sort of deciding what I want to do.”

Couple discusses differing opinions of Homecoming asks

Luke Madden ’24 and Natasha Clement ’24 have been together for nine months. Madden said that he has considered a big ask for Clement but said he wants to get her opinion first.

“I’ve been warned that [Clement] is not, at least when we first started dating, a super big fan of being a target of a major public Homecoming ask,” Madden said. “I haven’t talked to her recently about it, so I don’t know her thoughts on it now. Some people have turned to me and said, ‘Luke, are you going to do a big public ask this year?’ I want to make sure I know where she stands on that before I do anything.”

Clement said she does not want a big ask for herself and appreciates Madden’s communication.

“It’s not really something I’d want,” Clement said. “I’m just not a fan of the attention it brings. I’ve had conversations with Luke about it, and we’ve basically compromised on something much more low-key or something in private. He’s the type of person that would want to do a big ask, and I can understand why, so I’m glad we’ve been in communication about it.”

Clement said she appreciates watching the elaborate formal asks because they come from a good place.

“To some degree, they are performative,” Clement said. “However, I also think the intention behind them is genuine. I understand wanting to make the person you really like feel special, and that makes up for any performative aspect that does exist in my eyes.

Clement said when she was not in a relationship, she felt there were expectations for her to find someone to go to Homecoming with. 

“Last year a majority of my friends paired off and went platonically,” Clement said. “I felt some of that pressure myself, so it was really disappointing when I didn’t end up with a date, romantic or otherwise.”

According to a Chronicle survey, of 227 students polled, 47.1% said they feel pressure to go to Homecoming with a date. 64% of 220 students surveyed said they would not want a big Homecoming ask.

Teachers discuss their perspectives on Homecoming

Upper School History Teacher Peter Sheehy participated in a student’s Prom ask last year. Sheehy said he enjoyed helping in an ask because he likes carrying on the tradition.

“I was honored to be asked to help in an ask,” Sheehy said. “I’d always just witnessed it from afar, and I saw how much fun the students had. It seemed like a great, fun community-building tradition.” 

Sheehy said he feels disconnected from the Homecoming culture of the school, but he said he recognizes the stress students feel about Homecoming as a usual part of adolescence.

“As much as I try to know about my students’ lives and even though I have kids that age, I just feel very removed from that aspect of students’ social lives,” Sheehy said. “I just hope that [asks] continue to be inclusive and fun, and as [least] stress producing as possible. If it truly is spontaneous, yes, I guess things could go awry, and I suppose it does bring attention to who’s being asked and who isn’t, but I think that’s just part of the normal stress and joys and learning experience of being a teenager.”

Sheehy said he appreciates students’ originality in public asks but understands the reasoning behind private asks.

“Whether you do public or private ask, I think it’s totally personal,” Sheehy said. “It’s fun for the community to see some of the creative and musical and dramatic ways that people get asked. That wouldn’t have been me. I would have been the private ask, but it’s great that people feel comfortable and enjoy it.”

Math Teacher Catherine Campbell said big asks could go sideways.

“It can be really cute to do a big ask, as long as it goes well,” Campbell said. “Sometimes people are pressured to say yes because everybody’s looking and they don’t want to. On the other hand, it just seems weird to me because if you do plan to like someone, I feel like you should just be a little more subtle about it, but that’s just me.”

Campbell said she has observed relationship dynamics in her classes that reminded her of Homecoming asks.

“I have had students who like each other in my class before, and it hasn’t been reciprocated, which is kind of funny,” Campbell said. “A boy was obsessed with the girl, and the girl was like, ‘oh, my God,’ and everybody knew, but he just kept going. It was kind of cute that he kept persisting, and so I liked that.” 

Math Teacher Derric Chien also helped a student with a Prom ask. Chien said big asks detract from the stress of the school.

“I think they are totally reasonable because kids can get really stressed out here at Harvard-Westlake,” Chien said. “Having a kind of entertaining diversion is actually really good fuel.”

Students talk about their Homecoming plans

Whitney Enenstein ’24 said despite enjoying the event last year,   she has felt stressed about Homecoming and considered taking someone from another school to avoid judgment from people at school.

“It’s easier to go with someone outside of school,” Enenstein said. “There isn’t the added pressure of doing an ask in front of everyone, which can be really stressful. It’s fun to socialize with people you wouldn’t normally socialize with, and people at other schools tend to be less judgmental. I think there is a lot of fear of judgment at HW.”

Madden said he came up with multiple ideas for his Homecoming ask after thinking about ways to make Clement’s private ask special. 

“One of my top choices right now is to buy some flowers and chocolate to give to her and ask her if she wants to go to Homecoming with me,” Madden said. “When I do an ask, I want the other person to feel happy and important in my life. I want to make them feel appreciated. That’s why Homecoming asks are valuable.”