Debutantes in white gowns. Beaus in top hats and tails. Young men and women make their come out, a mark of passage into adulthood.
The annual Cotillion, hosted by the Covington chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, is the culmination of a two-year program the young women and men enter as juniors in high school. For the next two years, they learn etiquette, how to engage in conversation confidently, and enjoy outings to cultural events in the Atlanta metro region.
In March, current high school seniors will be presented at the chapter’s cotillion. But, on Feb. 6 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., sophomores and their parents can learn more about the program at a brunch to be held at the Newton Board of Education offices, 2109 Newton Drive, N.E., in Covington.
Local alumnae of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority members will present information on the program, and invite applications from those interested.
According to Stephanie Moore, the chapter’s Cotillion chair, “We like for [applicants] to meet a grade point requirement. There are recommendations, interviews and a fee for the process.”
The fee can run several hundred dollars, she said, adding that it pays for “all activities, including field trips, and the dresses and tuxes.” Participants meet monthly to hear speakers, learn etiquette or take part in a field trip to a play or musical performance.
There are some scholarships available to participants, and each of the 12 young men and 12 young women who are accepted in to the program, will receive a scholarship for college from the sorority. It will be awarded at the Cotillion, Moore said.
When Cedric Trussell, 18, a 2015 graduate of Newton High School, first heard about the program, he said “most of the beaus and debutantes in the Cotillion were forced by their parents to come.
“At first, we were very hesitant,” he said, “but once we started having seeing the good parts of the program, we started bonding.
“Most of the people are still very good friends of mine,” said the Savannah State freshman. “We went to dinner [together] on Christmas break.”
Like Trussell, Amber Astin is a 2015 graduate of Newton High School, but she wanted to participate “because I felt like it would help me be a more well-rounded individual. It sounded like it would help prepare me for life.”
For the Valdosta State freshman, starting the program as a junior was during a time of transition as she began thinking about college. “I thought [the program] was perfect timing.”
The experience did help.
“I was a shy kid growing up,” Trussell said. “It got me out of my shell. It was a great program all around and I enjoyed every bit of it.”
Trussell’s mother, Dionne Maddox, said she saw “tremendous growth in his maturity level from start to finish. I can tell he has a higher level of self — esteem and acts more responsibility.
“Being in the cotillion definitely helped in the transition to college, where he gained a lot of freedom,” she said. “He still talks to many of the other children in the cotillion and they helped each other in the transition to college.”
In an era of social media, when entire conversations are held in abbreviated text form, learning how to converse with others and what utensils to use during a formal dinner may seem to be old-fashioned.
Astin’s mother, Tonya, said she has been able to see the program’s impact not only on her daughter, but on her son, 17-year-old Auliver, a Newton High School senior who will be presented at the cotillion in March.
"It’s very relevant because it brings them back to basics and gives them the opportunity to do some things on a consistent basis that are becoming foreign," she said. "We need to introduce that to our children so they can continue to be good human beings.”
It also helphelpsed reinforce the lessons being taught at home.
Her daughter agrees. “Learning how to talk to people, how to carry yourself will go with you everywhere.”
Trussell said his experience taught him how to conduct himself like a gentleman and engage in conversations with adults “so I could be taken seriously in the business world.”
He also learned how to network. “One of the guys I mean [through the program] helped me get in to Savannah State.” There, he is majoring in electrical engineering and plans to work on medical equipment when he graduates.
The students presented during the ball are escorted in by their mother or father, who then dances the first waltz with their child. For Maddox, “dancing with Cedric actually brought us closer because we had to communicate to learn how to dance together. It was a special time of bonding.”
Astin, escorted into the ballroom by her father, Dwight Astin, said waltzing with her father was an amazing life-time experience. “We thought we were going to be tripping all over each other, but it turned out perfectly. We practiced in the kitchen, in the dining room, outside, all over ... it was perfect.”
For Astin’s mother, the sight of her daughter made her realize “[Amber’s] all grown. She looked like a princess. It was a proud and sobering moment, [knowing] she’s all grown up and going off to college.”
Astin said she would encourage sophomores considering applying for the program to keep an open mind. “It’s really fun. You learn a whole bunch of stuff you wouldn’t put yourself in the position to learn normally.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there because in the end, it shows you a lot about yourself,” she said.
For more information about the upcoming brunch about the program and the 2018 cotillion, contact email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.caacdst.org.