Project Prom: 4 dresses, 1 girl, you choose

For some, the notion of trying on more than 60 prom dresses in one day might be a bit daunting. But not for Caitlin Warshauer, 18, of Lake Ronkonkoma, this year's Project Prom girl.

Caitlin marches to a different beat than most high school seniors, having (at age 17), already been through the rigors of Army boot camp. She signed up for six years of the National Guard because, she says, "I just wanted to see if I could get through it, and they were going to help pay for college."

After graduation from Sachem High School North next month, she'll head to Fort Lee, Va., where, as a private first class, she'll train to be a food operations specialist (as in Army cook). In the fall, she'll get more mainstream culinary skills at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., while continuing her service in the Armed Forces.

So, as you might imagine, for Caitlin, soldiering through yards of ruffles, buckets of sparkles and bolts of tulle was a day in the park compared to a 15K road march wearing a heavy rucksack and carrying an M16A2-rifle.

But prom dress shopping was only the first part of her fashion basic training. Another day, she had to face Newsday's own glam squad, where she traded in her combat boots for silver stilettos and her scrubbed face and unfussy 'do for movie star makeup and hair. Here she discovered a little weaponry all her own . . . she's gorgeous.

For the record, Caitlin's service to her country wasn't the only reason she stood out from the pack of young women who wanted Newsday to buy them a prom dress. She's footing the bill for herself and her date, Justin Flynn, 18, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Huntington Station. "We've been best friends since the day I was born, 18 years ago. We grew up together," she wrote. Baby photos back this up, as Caitlin's mom, Renee, and Justin's mom, Debbie, were best friends in high school (and still are). Last year, Justin was diagnosed with leukemia. "He missed a lot of school, and I'm taking him so he can enjoy the high school experience and have fun with what's left of it," she says. "Even if he didn't have cancer, I would have taken him. I don't want to have some random date I won't remember. I'll always look back at the pictures and say, 'Good times.' "

But back to the mission at hand, which is all about the dress. While Caitlin's not fussy, she's particular (hence the unusually large number of try-ons). "It doesn't really matter" (yeah, yeah), "but my dress has to be happy, not boring, and I like color, but I also like white. Girlie is fine, and I definitely want to look pretty, but I don't want anything too seductive."

We think you'll agree that Operation Prom Dress was a success. So now, readers, it's your duty to pick the dress Caitlin will wear to her prom at the Marriott in Uniondale on June 24. We'll be there.


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