Remember that fabulous, over-the-top, Dubai-theme prom sendoff in May where a North Philly mom spent $25,000 to bring in three tons of sand and a live camel?
Saudia Shuler commissioned a Middle East-inspired backdrop and arranged for her son to have not one but three luxury cars — a Range Rover, a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini. Johnny "JJ" Eden also had a different, beautifully attired date for each of his three outfit changes. Yes, three outfit changes. Shuler served Islamic-theme cakes — one in the shape of a Quran and another with a tiny robed figure in black kneeling as if in prayer.
We all said she was crazy to spend so much. She was just doing too much. Well, Saudia Shuler wants you to know that her son is enrolled at Delaware State University, just as she said he would be, and that she paid cash for his tuition.
"I paid for him in cash to go to college. I'm not asking nobody for nothing. We don't have any loans. None of that," said Shuler, who owns Country Cooking, a soul-food takeout in the 2800 block of North 22nd Street. "I think it was because of the prom stuff. They didn't give my baby anything."
"I think it was that camel," she added, laughing. "But I was prepared to pay for his college anyway. There was always money set aside for his education. He knows what's expected of him, so he'll do great."
As for Eden, he's settled into his dorm room and getting adjusted to college life. He moved in on Aug. 24. When I spoke with the 2017 Simon Gratz High School graduate on Friday, he told me he intends to major in chemical engineering and is determined to get on the dean's list. He hopes to win some academic scholarships to help ease the burden on his mother. (Yearly tuition is $16,138 for out-of-state students, according to the school's website. Housing for a double room on campus is about $8,000, depending on the dorm.) He impressed me with his sincerity. I urged him to study hard and wished him well.
"It don't take nothing to pay attention," he said as he prepared for a 2 p.m. class to start.
I'm rooting for this kid.
Despite his mom's extravagance, Eden is quiet and low-key. I like how committed he is to his mother. He's determined to make something out of his life. Eden has professional mentors now, the Rev. Marshall Mitchell of Salem Baptist in Jenkintown and Damaris Walker, who lives in Strawberry Mansion and attended Dartmouth University and Yale Law School. They volunteered to counsel him after learning of his academic plans.
As for Shuler, she's not out of the prom send-off business yet. She's working on another over-the-top shindig for a friend for 2018 — even though she still smarts over some of the pushback she got for her son's big night.
"Why should I deprive him because of what other people say? Shuler said.
"What would be the difference in me going to buy a Range Rover or a Bentley truck? That would be cool. But it's not cool for me to spend money on my son's prom? I don't understand it. It makes me happy. It makes my son happy. We never thought in a million years that the news would get involved. It was just a cookout with a camel. It just blew up into something else."