In between spring and summer, there’s another season on high school calendars across Long Island — prom season. It’s been going on for a few weeks now, from Amityville to Dix Hills to Rocky Point, and will conclude in about a week.
The fun and frolicking may end, but the memories linger. What did you wear? Who was your date? Where was the venue? Who was crowned prom king and queen?
Newsday has been catching up with former Long Island prom kings and queens. Walk down memory lane with them as they laugh at fond recollections, tell us where the crown is (at Mom’s house) and recall the surprise at hearing their names called.
— TRACY M. BROWN,
LI LIFE EDITOR
PROM KING/Islip High School
JOB: Chef and director of food and beverage, Essex Culinary Resort and Spa in Essex Junction, Vermont
During his time at Islip High School, Henry Wallace explored many of his interests: He painted the sets for the school’s theatrical productions, led a team-building club and even took a food course with his buddy so they could “hang out and eat.”
And that’s when he discovered his passion for cooking.
“I realized it was cool,” Wallace said. “I had a knack for this, and it was something I wanted to do.”
Wallace would ultimately embark on a culinary career path. But before he left his stomping grounds in 1996, he snatched three royal titles: Sophomore year homecoming court, junior prom king and senior prom king.
“I was honestly a little surprised,” he said. “I wasn’t in one clique in high school; I was nice and friendly to all groups. I had one or two friends in each group across the board, which helped me get nominated and win.”
Wallace — who went by Hank back then — won each title alongside his classmate Julie Hereth.
“My mom was so happy,” he said. “She had a poster in the front room of the house that said ‘Triple Crown.’ ”
Wallace went on to take culinary classes at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. Following graduation, he studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.
Now, he is a chef and director of food and beverage at the Essex Culinary Resort and Spa in Essex Junction, Vermont.
The resort grows its own produce on the property and boasts a fine-dining restaurant with an open kitchen.
As a New York boy, born and raised, Wallace said this was quite a change of scene. But he’s come full circle since his days in culinary class.
“I teach my staff instruction and training so they’re better chefs and servers,” he said.
If Wallace could go back in time, he said he would tell himself to keep one thing in mind:
“Part of it’s helped me to get to where I am — working so hard — but maybe not to work so hard,” he said. “Work isn’t everything. A good work ethic is good, but make sure you pay attention to your friends and family.”
JUNIOR PROM KING/Newfield High School
JOB: Insurance agent
The junior prom theme was “A Night in Paris,” and it was a night that Newfield High School’s Phil Forte would not soon forget. In 2006, he was crowned prom king in front of all his peers — right after they finished creating a massive Eiffel Tower out of cardboard.
“When they called my name, I looked at my friend and he said, ‘How did you win prom king?’ ” Forte recalled. “I said, ‘I have no idea.’ ”
Forte was an active member of his junior class and said he hardly attended classes the week before prom since the preparation was so rigorous.
“It was cool to see it all come together on prom night,” he said.
After graduating in 2007, Forte attended Suffolk County Community College. He then transferred to SUNY Albany, where two of his high school friends were enrolled. His career path later took a few turns. Forte initially pursued sports journalism. When he was 19, he was able to cover the New York Giants training camp in Albany for his internship at The Saratogian.
“Unfortunately, I’m a diehard Jets fan,” Forte said with a laugh.
While thrilled to receive such an exciting opportunity at a young age, Forte said he wanted to try something new when he moved back to Long Island after graduation.
“It was tough to get a journalism job,” he said. “I wasn’t making the money that I aspired to make.”
Forte got a job as an Allstate insurance salesman, working with the father of one of his best buddies from high school. He eventually became a sales instructor.
In March, Forte started his own Allstate agency. He teamed up with a friend from high school, Antony Strano, and the Strano-Forte Agency opened for business in Melville.
“We’re building our book from the ground up,” Forte said. “We’ve got a lot of experience together between the both of us, so we’re looking to go on from there and make a life out of it.”
What’s next for the new small-business owner? A trip to California with his high school friends to see a concert and hike through the Sequoia National Forest. Newfield High School will always be close to his heart — and his mother’s, too.
“The crown is still out in her house,” he said with a laugh.
JUNIOR PROM QUEEN/Patchogue-Medford High School
JOB: St. Joseph’s College professor
PROM KING/Longwood Senior
JOB: Special-education teacher
HOME: East Patchogue
Karen O’Sullivan-Seifert and Scott Hicks were Long Island prom royalty once. It was 1988 when Hicks took home the crown from Longwood Senior High School in Middle Island. O’Sullivan-Seifert earned the tiara in 1990 at the Patchogue-Medford High School junior prom.
On May 19 at the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, the two stood side by side snapping photos of their children — Emily Seifert, 16, and Zach Hicks, 17, who have been friends since seventh grade. A few weeks ago, the teens were excited to learn that they had been nominated for junior prom queen and king at Patchogue-Medford.
“I was kind of surprised,” Emily said. “I didn’t really expect it. It was announced during second period and I was like, ‘Oh wait, that’s my name!’ ”
Zach smiled while recalling his father’s reaction when he told him about his nomination. “I want to say it was a cocky, like, ‘Oh look at this guy, filling in the big man’s shoes’ kind of thing,” he said with a laugh.
Although Emily and Zach were not crowned queen and king, their parents beamed while watching them applaud their peers and later gushed about their achievements.
O’Sullivan-Seifert has been a communication studies professor at St. Joseph’s College in Patchogue for 14 years, and proudly noted that Emily hopes to major in speech pathology or psychology after she graduates.
Hicks, a special-education teacher in Center Moriches, said his daughter will be a freshman next year at Patchogue-Medford, where Zach will be a senior. The same age difference separated Hicks and his older brother when they were in high school.
“[Zach] is a great kid and makes us very proud,” he said. “It was really easy to raise him. It was fun and it’s actually hard letting go a little bit, you know? Because he’s getting older and he’s moving on to college. It’s a crazy time; you have to take in every moment and appreciate it.”
JUNIOR PROM KING/North Babylon High School
JOB: Partner, law firm of Gruenberg Kelly Della in Ronkonkoma
HOME: West Islip
Before the North Babylon High School junior prom of 1997, Michael DellaUniversita remembers that all of his friends showed up at his house for a photo shoot.
“My mother wanted to have everyone over,” he recalled of the pre-prom meetup in his driveway. Fran DellaUniversita said she was always happy to host.
“My door was always open to all his friends,” she said. “This was the place to come. I hosted everybody before the proms, and the parents came over, as well.”
Later that evening, Michael DellaUniversita was crowned junior prom king of North Babylon High School before heading to a comedy club and spending two nights on the Jersey Shore with his friends.
When it was time to turn the page from teenage rites to future plans, his mom proved as effective at guiding career decisions as she was directing photo shoots.
After high school, DellaUniversita said that he was thinking about going into advertising or marketing but that his mother helped steer him in the right direction as his undergrad years at Ithaca College came to a close.
“I didn’t know what career path I wanted to take,” he said. “My mother pushed me to take the entry exam into law school. . . . I ended up loving it.”
DellaUniversita studied at Hofstra University in Hempstead and is now a personal-injury attorney. Five years ago, he became a partner at Ronkonkoma-based Gruenberg Kelly Della.
He lives in West Islip but said Babylon will always be his home at heart.
“I loved Babylon,” DellaUniversita said. “I loved football. We won the championship senior year, and that was everything to me. I can’t remember having a bad day back in high school. . . . Everything I was taught there and everything I did there led me to where I am today.”