Austin Smith and Erin Madden arrived at Villa Milano in Columbus for prom Friday as students but left as royalty after being crowned king and queen by their fellow Hayes High School classmates.
Madden and Smith said Tuesday they learned they were on prom court on April 18, just days before prom was held on April 21.
“It came as a complete surprise,” Madden said. “We’ve been dating since our freshman year. … I never expected us to get nominated. It was a huge surprise.”
Smith said he was just as surprised to be nominated.
“I was not expecting it,” Smith said. “I felt like the reason I was nominated was because of her.”
Hayes seniors voted on the nominations from April 18-20, and the results were announced during prom.
Madden said she was nervous heading into prom because of the nomination.
“I knew if we didn’t get it, it’d be totally fine,” she said. “I still thought that’d be so cool.”
Madden said a competitive part of her also wanted to take the crown.
Both students said they were nervous about only one of them being crowned during the event.
“I thought we might run into an awkward situation,” Smith joked. “I’ve never considered myself a popular person.”
They said they were touched when they learned their classmates had selected them for the crowns.
“When I heard Austin’s name, I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, this is really happening’,” Madden said. “It was really, really cool. I was really touched that our peers think so highly of us. I would have never expected that. I can’t believe they all thought we deserved this.”
Smith added, “It was cool to be nominated, but actually being voted as the king was a surprise to me. Recognition is nice.”
The students humbly said their crowns haven’t given them any sense of superiority over their fellow students.
“The recognition is nice, but it doesn’t change anything,” Smith said.
Likewise, Madden said they are “still going to be the same people.”
“I’m realizing I know more people than I thought I did,” Madden said.
The couple said they both plan to attend The Ohio State University next semester. Madden plans to study biochemistry, and Smith plans to student electrical engineering.
Hayes Principal Dr. Ric Stranges said Tuesday the event was a success and was attended by more than 400 students.
“I get to be with them all day,” Stranges said “We only have upper classmen (at prom). When I came here 10 years ago, the principal told me as he was leaving to cancel the prom (permanently) because freshman ran around the prom. It was just a dance, not an event. I want to make it feel special.”
Stranges said many high school principals don’t like prom, but it’s an event he enjoys.
“As a principal, that night is the worst,” Stranges said. “So many things can go wrong if you don’t get in on the front end and set it up for success. I want it to be something to look forward to. It’s not just a meal, not just a dance, it’s an event. They don’t have to find reservations and drive all over. They come to one place, and we spend the evening together. I’m trying to make it something special.”
Stranges said he personally stood outside the event and welcomed every student and wished them all well as they headed home after the event was over.
“It’s an interaction with all 450 students,” he said. “It’s just important to me.”
Stranges said he’s proud of the students’ conduct at the event, and the school is always invited back by the Milano family, who run Villa Milano, because the students are “always polite, always respectful, and always grateful.”
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.