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Prom Night



Stephanie Lentz and her admiring boyfriend, Chris Oakes, were photographed by Kathy Richland at a preprom party in May 2000. Stephanie and I spoke the following January in the town house she grew up in, just west of Old Town. The neighborhood was "pretty rough when my parents first moved here," she told me. "Now it's yuppie mania."

My name is Stephanie Christine Lentz, and I have lived in the same house in Lincoln Park my whole life up till now. I went to the same school, the University of Chicago Lab School, from nursery school to 12th grade--about 14 years. I'm a lifer, that's what we call ourselves. Now I'm a freshman at Boston College.

My dad's from a small town in Iowa, and I know that when he was young he wanted to break out of that and come to a bigger city. He went to Loras College in Dubuque, and his roommate was from Oak Park, and in the summer he would come and live with his roommate and work here. And he spent a year here at Loyola, his junior year. After he finished up at Loras and went into the navy and then went to law school, I guess he just came back here because he liked it so much. He started practicing law downtown. Actually, that's how my mom and he met. My mom's a flight attendant. She grew up in Ohio and went to Ohio State. Right after college she got a job with United and came to Chicago. And for a while on the side she was a real estate agent. She met my dad in the last real estate deal she did before she quit. He was the lawyer for the buyer.

I've really enjoyed my time in the city--having grown up here is a pretty neat thing. Because it's so diverse, and you're really exposed to a lot as you grow up, and you become used to all different kinds of people and situations that most kids, most of the people I meet at BC, don't know anything about. Lab is an incredibly diverse school. Every year we celebrated holidays like Diwali and Kwanza, and we had traditional Asian dances in our assemblies. I look through my yearbook, and there are so many Jewish kids, Asian kids, black kids. I always liked that about my school. And I don't see that as much at BC. For most kids, I think, going to college is a more diverse experience than what they're used to, but for me it's probably a little bit of the opposite. A lot of kids at BC are from these huge suburban public rah-rah football schools with a thousand kids in a class. My high school didn't even have football. We didn't have cheerleading, we had dance troupe. When people at BC hear that, they can't believe it. But everyone did their own thing at Lab. I think it's the sort of place where individuals, and people who maybe in other schools would not be accepted socially into every group, can find their own place. And it's also a school where being smart is respected by the students.

I had a great time at BC first semester. I really like the kids I've met. They're not very pretentious--you got a little of that at Lab School, I think--and everyone is a lot like me. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but for once it is kind of nice to have other people who are like me. My family is pretty Catholic. I was almost embarrassed sometimes to tell people at Lab that I went to church every Sunday, because no one really did that. Or at least no one I knew talked about it. So it was sort of like a separate life for me: there was school, and then religion was for Sundays.

At BC about 70 percent of the kids are Catholic. All my friends there are from big Catholic families, lots of brothers and sisters. Religion is not a huge presence in your everyday life there, but it's part of the value system, I think, in the way they teach and the way they try to make you realize that you're not the only person in the world--that there are other people out there, that you're very lucky to be where you are and you need to spread your gifts. Service is a huge deal there. Everyone is very interested in being involved and giving back, and it's a big part of the Jesuit tradition. They have the largest Appalachia contingent in the entire country; something like 600 kids go every year. All my friends volunteer, and so do I. My roommate must be doing four different types of volunteering right now, I don't even know what they all are. She's going to Jamaica this summer, she's going to Appalachia over spring break, she also works and donates the money she makes to one of the organizations on campus. And she volunteers at a hospital for kids who have been in abusive situations and taken out of their homes. It's sort of a rehab program before they go into foster care. It's an intense environment, whereas I'm just making snacks for kids and going outside and playing. I volunteer at Jackson Mann preschool. I love it, too. It's a preschool in the city, it's really diverse, and it's fun for me to go and see these kids who are growing up in the city just like I did. The three hours a week I spend there are some of the most fun I have. I don't know why. I guess I like working with kids, I like rolling around in the dirt with them. There's something about childhood too that I guess I have a soft spot for. There's only a certain time in your life when you're able to get away with that stuff and be able to just play, and it's simple, it's fun.

I'm going through a lot of changes right now. Going from where I've lived my whole life and been comfortable with everything to a totally new place has been a more difficult change than I thought.

Being away from my boyfriend is really hard. It's just bad luck that at this time of our life we need to be on opposite ends of the country. He's going to Occidental, it's a small school in California. He really likes it. But he's in California and I'm in Boston, and there's nothing we can do about that. His name is Chris, he's the guy in the picture.

When we're together we have such a great time. We're both really active, we do all sorts of fun things: we play tennis, we play soccer, we go running, we go to the beach all the time. Or we'll get something in our heads and go on some trip or fun adventure, something really memorable and worthwhile, instead of going to a party and sitting around drinking. We're so close that we didn't really think it would change by being apart. But it's different.

Now we're both home on break and we see each other almost every day, but it's hard, changing so much. Just coming home, it takes like a week to get readjusted to life here. When I got home all I talked about was school, because that's what I've just been through. I've made probably seven very good friends at school, and my roommate's one of them, and I talk and talk and talk about them, and Chris can't even keep track of them because there are so many. I think all he wants to do is concentrate on here, right now, and I'm still talking about school for...forever.

The first week home was rough. But since then it's been good. We've gotten back into the groove and it's been really fun again. We went skiing at Wilmot last week, and we're having a really good time together. It's going to be hard again, going back. It's unfortunate. You come home and it's weird for a week, and then you finally feel like you know each other again and you're having a great time, and then you have to leave for another four months. It's like two lives and you feel like you're not fully at home in either. When I was going to school here I had strong relationships with my friends and I saw them every day. But now when I come home I don't see them that much. And I think as I get older they'll sort of fade out in the background. And then when I go to Boston I have my friends there, but I only see them for four months at a time and then I go home again. So it's a weird time. I'm becoming a little more accustomed to Boston, but obviously it's not my home. But Chicago is feeling a little less like home every day.

What do you see when you look at this picture? Is it the beginning of something or the end?

I'd say it looks like the end. I know there's something beginning after it, but that photo of me at my senior prom, it's like the end of my entire Lab School career--the end of my childhood, I guess.

I hate to say I feel old already, I don't. But I do feel that I'm not a kid anymore, that my childhood is getting farther and farther away from me. My senior year and the summer after was the last time in my life when I could just do what made me happy. I thought about this a lot in my relationship with Chris; it was the last time we could just be together every day. I mean I worked every day that summer, and I lived with my family and I had to obey their rules and everything, but it's not like I had bills to pay or places I had to be or a real career that I had to focus on. It's the last time in my life that I was still a kid, with nothing to distract me from just having a good time.

I thought the picture really captured the moment, because I remember when Chris saw me he was like, "Wow." We were at a preprom party that one of my friends had at her house. Probably half the class was there. And all the parents were there. It was hectic. Everywhere you looked, every time you turned around, there was a flash. I'm sure it was so fun for the parents to see all the kids and fuss over them and make a big deal. It was great for us too. There aren't that many times in your life when you can get that dressed up and be the center of attention and have everyone compliment you and fuss over you and take a million pictures. It was fun. But it was also fun to leave the parents and get on with the prom.

Postscript: Stephanie just finished her sophomore year at BC. She's an honors student double majoring in economics and French. She'll spend her junior year at the University of Paris-Sorbonne. She and Chris are still in touch, but mostly by telephone.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kathy Richland.

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