Amid the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom has served as the best platform for holding classes online, but it can be used for gatherings besides school. Gonzaga senior Kayla Kim and junior Maryael Ramos have seized an opportunity to host various quarantine activities while social distancing.
“I just realized that in a time like this, people are really searching for connection and any kind of sense of normalcy,” Kim said.
It all started when Kim called Ramos in the middle of the night with the idea to host a virtual silent disco, a party in which everyone dances together but listens to the music through their own headphones. After just a day of planning and sharing the event over Facebook, more than 30 people showed up. These guests messaged the hosts begging for more events like the one they just experienced; Kim and Ramos were happy to provide for them.
“It was really rewarding and super heart-warming to know that this is something that people want and something that people enjoy,” Ramos said.
The next week, they hosted a throwback silent disco, which received even more participants, but their third silent disco was the biggest one yet. The theme was mock prom.
Rather than planning the event in just a day, they started earlier in order to spread the word. Ten other GU students joined their team to help promote the event through social media, prepare the playlist and hype everyone up. Kim even rode her bike around campus with a poster taped to it, encouraging people to join in. She also had an ice cream truck pregame in which she drove around the area delivering popsicles to different houses to get them involved in the event.
Though it was risky, they asked everyone to go all out for mock prom. That included dressing up, doing full makeup, bringing a date or inviting their families, posting their "promposals" to the Facebook page and dancing with as much energy as they could summon.
“It’s kind of silly and weird and wild,” Kim said. “You would think that everyone would feel kind of awkward or insecure, but people really just let loose and go off, which I was surprised by.”
It turns out that the guests’ level of enthusiasm matched that of the hosts. Kim played the role of DJ by dancing, announcing what song they were currently on, how much longer until the next song should start, shouting encouragements and compliments to everyone and reminding them to hydrate. It was nearly impossible for people not to dance with Kim’s energy.
“If you know Kayla, she’s just really passionate about life and really can bring anything together,” said Dela Bartol, a member of their hype team. “She kind of just took that energy and went for it.”
Meanwhile, Ramos was doing her part by keeping an eye on the screens to ensure that no one was disrupting the event and that everyone felt comfortable and safe. She also ran a photo booth half an hour before the event started by simply taking screenshots of everyone and Photoshopping the pictures.
“Maryael is like the perfect person to plan all this with because it’s crazy and a logistical nightmare,” Kim said. “[It] just requires like all of you and you have to get really creative and think outside of the box, but Maryael is just very present and very here for it.”
To resemble an actual prom as much as possible, they had the guests vote for prom king and queen. They also gave out awards for the best outfit and the best virtual background. Some of the most noticeable backgrounds showed pictures of the COG, a middle school gym, Shawn Mendes and Las Vegas. A few people actually went further than the virtual background and decorated their rooms with prom posters, balloons and lights.
At one point, there were at least 80 participants. Kim and Ramos were only hoping for a maximum of 50 people; they reached that goal before the event officially started. Not all of them were GU students, either. There were people from all over Washington, Oregon, California and even a few from Australia and South Africa, plus any family members who joined. Nearly all of them were dancing their breath away for the entire two hours.
“I definitely felt like I got a little bit of a workout, which was nice in the fact that literally all we do now is sit and do nothing,” said senior Kamea Sandstrom.
Dancing wasn’t challenging because of the strategically planned-out playlist, which included both upbeat and slow songs mostly from the early 2000s that everyone knew the words to ("Beautiful Soul" by Jesse McCartney, "Like a G6" by Far East Movement, "Low" by Flo Rida and more). However, nothing compared to the vibe of the encore song, the perfect track to end the night, one of the sounds that brings GU students together immediately – "The Hum" by Dimitri Vegas.
“We want people to feel like not everything has been lost and we can still have those Zag moments even on Zoom,” Kim said.
Seniors have had their last moment in the Kennel, their last Hemmingson study session, their last class in College Hall, all without even knowing it. Though virtual replacements of certain things will never match up to the actual experiences, they are still memories to have as opposed to nothing.
“My heart has really been with all the seniors during this time because obviously they didn’t get the goodbye that they wanted,” Ramos said. “They didn’t get a lot of closure with a lot of people. That’s been a big motivating factor for me.”
Mock Prom was Kim and Ramos’ passion project. It resembled a full-time job and once it was over, they had to take an entire day to recover, but they soon jumped right back into planning for the next Friday night dance party.
“I realized how much I liked seeing other people even if I wasn’t really with them,” said junior Clara Buck. “I was kind of surprised by just the energy, mood boost of it all.”
Kim and Ramos have also begun pitching ideas for future events as well as fundraising opportunities to channel their events toward a good cause and support COVID-19 research and local businesses.
In addition to the silent discos, Kim collaborates with different organizations to host a variety of activities for people to entertain themselves until the restrictions from the pandemic are released. She has hosted bridal showers, surprise birthday parties, happy hours, dinner parties, Bible studies, even a virtual Hemmingson Center in which people mute themselves and just do homework in each other’s presence with coffeehouse music in the background and some light conversation. But the silent discos are her biggest events. They require the most planning, the most pushing and have the largest outcome.
“This is how Gonzaga parties, this is how we do it,” Kim said. “This is how we still find joy and purpose and meaning even in the midst of a global pandemic, because that’s not gonna stop us from being connected and finding new ways to be with each other.”