Teens Are Sharing Their Late Friend's Prom Dress To Honor Her Memory

Massachusetts high school student Catherine Malatesta was only 16 years old when she lost her battle with an aggressive form of cancer in August of 2015. Now, her friends are choosing to honor her memory in a beautiful way: The teens are sharing their late friend’s prom dress, wearing it to their school dances all over the United States. It’s a lovely pact that Malatesta’s mother, Jennifer Goodwin, is calling “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Prom Dress.”

According to Goodwin, Malatesta was an enthusiastic student and a positive, happy teen; she was also an athlete, playing field hockey and participating in her school’s rowing crew. In December of 2014, she was diagnosed with epithelioid sarcoma and began a grueling process of chemotherapy, radiation, and immunotherapy. Throughout, she did her best to keep living like a normal teenager, going to school when possible, studying for AP classes, and going on college tours. She even ran successfully for student council president, recording her campaign speech from the hospital.

Malatesta’s junior prom at the end of May 2015 was a special occasion. She and her mom had ordered a long, blue dress online while she was in the emergency room. Photos of her on prom night show her looking happy and excited, posing with her date, a childhood friend. From the pictures, you’d never guess that she had just been released from the hospital the previous night. Sadly, four days after prom, she was back in the hospital, where she stayed until she passed away in August.

Goodwin later invited Malatesta’s friends over to see if they wanted to keep anything of hers. She told Bella English of The Boston Globe, “Her prom dress was still hanging on her closet door, and her friends started trying it on. They said, ‘We should all wear Catherine’s dress.’” And thus the Sisterhood of the Traveling Prom Dress began.

Jillian Danton, who grew up with Malatesta in Arlington, Massachusetts, was the first to don the dress, wearing it to her junior prom in early April. “l definitely felt her with me the whole time and it was an experience I wouldn't trade for anything in the world,” she told Lisa Flam of TODAY. “It's an extra memory of her that I have to hold on to.”

Three other friends are planning to wear the blue gown. Emma Schambers will don it for her senior prom in Rhode Island in mid-May, and Lauren Hourican will wear it a week later to her senior prom in Arlington. In June, Carly Blau will wear it to her senior prom in California.

Goodwin is moved by the teens’ efforts to keep her daughter’s memory alive. “It makes me so happy that these girls want to honor her in such a simple, yet incredibly powerful way,” she told TODAY. “They're carrying Catherine's spirit with them. She will forever be a part of their hearts and souls but wearing the dress is an outward physical acknowledgment of that love.”

Goodwin also explained how helpful this sisterhood has been to her personally, in coping with her grief as a parent. “For a parent who has lost a child, the hardest part is you think people are going to forget about them," she said. “… The fact that this group of girls wants to do this on their own just helps me to grieve and helps me to move forward.” There’s also a chance the Sisterhood of the Traveling Prom Dress will keep going beyond this year. Goodwin told TODAY that other friends have asked to wear it next year, as well a young cousin who is currently in middle school.

Catherine Malatesta's family has started a fund for a scholarship in her honor. Find out more about it at the scholarship's GoFundMe page.

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