POUGHKEEPSIE - "From crayons to perfume." The phrase, uttered by one of the attendees at Thursday’s 26th Biennial Debutante Cotillion, captured the potency of the event’s deep tradition and impact.
The debutante ritual, tracing back to the late 1900’s, is a formal introduction, or "coming out," to society for young ladies. This "class" featured nine of those young women, each a junior or senior from an area high school.
Required to go through an application process, including an interview, they further must possess a high grade point average as well as be outstanding members of their high schools and communities. Recommendations, from teachers and/or guidance counselors, further round out the requirements for entry into the program.
Once accepted, the prospective debutantes take a series of workshops throughout the year. Amongst the subjects are life skills, involving keeping a checkbook, making a budget, even how to apply makeup. Another focus is on the college application process, including such areas as financial aid and scholarships. Etiquette, involving posture and proper dining manners, is also practiced, skills revealed in a tea event with the girls and their mothers. Finally, dancing, both informal and formal, is practiced. These maneuvers were displayed Thursday, as the nine young ladies grooved onto the floor, clad in casual attire, prior to introducing themselves. Their moves were further showcased while attired in formal gowns, they danced with their young male escorts, sporting white tuxedos. The young men then turned the debutantes over to their fathers who they joined in with for the traditional waltz portion. Those involved were quick to cite the program’s lasting effects.
"I learned how to become less shy as well as express myself more and speak up," pointed out Brianna Boykin, a senior at Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School, who confidently introduced herself to the Grandview crowd. "These things will all really help me in life; it’s definitely a great experience for any high school girl to have."
Evidence of just how much the program has made a difference in the lives of young women could be found amongst the guests. Several were past debutantes, returning to show their support for a program they are likely to never forget. Gene Greene, a 2008 Poughkeepsie High School graduate as well as 2007 Debutante, was on hand Thursday to witness something that marked her own transition into womanhood.
"Being a debutante was very exciting, to say the least; becoming a young lady is something we all look forward to as children," recalled Green. "The Poughkeepsie Neighborhood Club really prepares, shapes and molds you into becoming a young woman and being able to represent your community with pride." She added, "It also ties you to many important people in the community, who I have gotten support from over the years and continue to today."
One of those pivotal community members is Carol Robinson, who has been in charge of public relations for the Debutante program for the past seven years.
"This event allows you the chance to mentor and work with young ladies, while having a positive influence, assisting them with getting a good footing in life," said Robinson. "People cry when they see the girls dancing with their fathers; it’s something they will remember the rest of their lives."
It’s that dancing opportunity that couldn’t erase the smile from Makasza Smellie’s face.
"When I got the letter in the mail to have this opportunity, I liked it right away because it sounded fancy," said the Poughkeepsie High School junior just prior to showing off her dance skills on the Grandview’s floor. "I really learned to dance; I’m nervous to show off what I know, but just so excited at the same time."