Will You Van Gogh to prom with me?
Upon entering, everyone seemed to pause for a moment, taken aback by the stunning decor. The familiar Cohen Center ballroom was nearly unrecognizable — Parisian almost — with its gentle strings of lights and shining, gold stars. The DJ played the latest hits at a floor-vibrating volume.
The only thing that alluded to it not being the real thing was the fact that free cake was being offered by smiling volunteers.
On Friday, March 20, Florida Gulf Coast University hosted the Starry Night dance to give participants from the Foundation for the Developmentally Disabled the real prom experience.
The population on the dance floor, however, wound up being evenly divided of those with disabilities and those without. Despite the divide, the populations mingled seamlessly, and to the naked eye, it was almost impossible to tell who was who. The thing that was easy to distinguish in the crowd, though, was the overwhelming sense of what can only be described as joy.
That sense of joy seemed to constantly radiate from one individual specifically; FGCU student and one of the event organizers, Lauren Morimanno. Shining in her pale pink gown, Morimanno flitted across the dance floor, up to the DJ booth, back to the food spreads, and over to the tables filled with the shier guests all throughout the night. Her radiant beam never faltered.
“My cheeks always hurt by the end of these,” Morimanno said with a smile. She, unsurprisingly, hopes to go into special education in the future.
Morimanno and fellow organizer Alexis Butt were an inspiration to watch. Their stream of warm welcomes, hugs, dances and thank yous were never-ending. That may come as no surprise to those who already know how many hours they put into planning this event for over a month beforehand, not to mention the decorating that took over six hours the day of.
Also found twirling on the dance floor, this time in a sequined, one-shoulder sheath, was the Director of Service-Learning herself: Jessica Rhea. Rhea’s sparkly number or personality may have drawn some initial attention, but she made sure to continuously redirect it to whoever was her newest friend from FDD and let them shine instead. She often led the dance floor circle’s clapping and cheering around whoever was the latest mic-grabber, who then continued to confidently belt out whatever tune the speakers were bumping at the time.
At one point, Rhea exclaimed over the music, “I love your dress! How beautiful!” to one particularly shy girl, who had been passing by looking down at her own toes. The girl, clearly confused at first, broke into a wide grin upon realizing the compliment was indeed for her, and she, much like the rest of the crowd, didn’t lose her smile for the rest of the night.