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A College Homecoming for a High School Prom

One of the biggest, and only, regrettable parts of living in and going to Winona this year was my inability to share in Zoe’s senior year moments firsthand. Sure, I could FaceTime and follow her on Snapchat, but it just wasn’t the same as being in the same school like we had been practically our whole lives. I missed being able to come home and dish out some gossip or laugh about something funny that went down in the cafeteria. I knew she felt the same way, even if she didn’t say it a lot. Luckily for me, on April 13, Winona State had a Student Spring Break Day which happened to fall on the same day as Zoe’s Prom. I thought, what could be better than making a surprise visit home and making her night one that she truly could never forget?

So here goes nothing – the story of my surprise homecoming for my little sister’s last school dance.

I had formulated this genius plan at the end of spring break in early March, but I didn’t want to take the unreliable Amtrak and risk ruining the weekend with delays. The heaven-send that she is, my grandma graciously made an 8-hour round trip on Thursday to help me pull this off. I also spent the night at her house to avoid tipping off my sister and my dad that I was home.

My sister and her friends started getting ready around 11am, starting with hair done by my cousin and makeup done by one of my sister’s friends. Because my grandma accompanied Zoe to a lot of her dress fittings, she had to go to my house early to help Zoe fasten the corset back to her dress, so it was up to my grandpa and me to come later for the full reveal. Around 3pm on Friday, we got a call from my mom saying that the girls were preparing to take pictures, which meant it was go time. However, the surprise ended up happening closer to 4pm, which was the LONGEST hour of my life. I don’t think I’ve ever been that quiet or nervous in my own home.

My grandpa and I hopped in the car and made the short five-minute commute across town to my house, but here began the tricky part. I had to get inside my house without any of my sister’s friends seeing me, saying anything, or alerting my rambunctiously excitable dog, Birdie, who of course wanted to greet me. I hunkered down in our guest bedroom downstairs, which has a direct line of sight to the front door but can’t be seen from the front door looking in. In order for this plan to work, Zoe couldn’t see me before my mom was taking video.

I had my mom usher all of them out the front door to take photos outside on our porch so that my sister’s back would be turned away from the house, which is when I quietly crept out the front door behind her and slid into the photo like I was part of her clique. The look on her face was, well, priceless.

I’m not gonna lie, there were tears shed from most of the people in attendance. I couldn’t believe I had pulled it off, and she was even more beautiful than normal, which is saying something. After some startled screeching and a long embrace, Zoe finally processed how much I had gone through to make this day extra special for her. My favorite part was her saying, “Wait, how long have you been home!?”

As we trekked off to our local gazebo for more photos and prepared to drop Zoe off at the school, my dad met us straight from work. He arrived too late to see Zoe before they had boarded the buses, but that gave me a PRIME opportunity to basically sprint through my alma mater and meet him at the buses before he noticed. After squinting at me from a distance, he finally realized it was me. Running into his arms with a second bout of happy tears that day, I had successfully completed both surprises.

As we saw Zoe off onto the buses to head to the Museum of Science and Industry in downtown Chicago, the rest of our entourage (mom, dad, and grandparents) got into the car, picked up pizza from my favorite local spot and rented The Greatest Showman on On Demand (I was pretty tired from my extensive surprise tactics of the whole day). The rest of the weekend was pretty low key with a dad and daughters sushi lunch, manicures, a Target run, and lots of time on the couch with my dog.

I am so incredibly happy that I pulled off a double surprise homecoming and even luckier that my family was able to go to great lengths to help me achieve my goal. It meant the world to me that I got to share in the day with Zoe, and it’ll only be a few short weeks until I’m home again for her high school graduation. This weekend was one of the best I’ve had in awhile because it’s true what they say: “Home is where your heart is.”

My name is Hannah Hippensteel, and I like to say I'm a Chicago city-slicker, but I'm actually from the 'burbs. I'm currently a senior at Winona State with a major in mass communication-journalism and a minor in sociology. Catch me enjoying all Winona has to offer: the bluffs, the incomparable Bloedow's Bakery, and not to mention, Minnesota boys. With a goal of working at Teen Vogue, Seventeen or Glamour magazine, I'm soaking up every opportunity to keep my finger on the pulse and share my personal voice!
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