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The twenty-first birthday is a milestone in the life of many young adults. Yet the big reward seems to be drinking legally. And probably drinking a lot in one night. Maybe we can do better.

What are we saying about adult life? Have we lost sight of truly celebrating our next generation as they grow to be adults? Have we taken the easy way out on creating a fun time? Is this what we really want them to look forward to? The legal drinking age seems to keep the celebration of reaching adulthood in the shallow end of the pool.

What kind of celebration would better honor this birthday, this rite of passage?

What if it were connected to life steps of accomplishment, instead of simply turning a page on the calendar. Achieving a goal or set of goals would be worthy of celebrating and instill a feeling of pride as one reaches their twenty-first birthday, like purchasing a car, getting car insurance, landing a job, getting a first apartment, finishing a college degree (not often doable by the twenty-first birthday), building a savings account, successful completion of military service, or volunteering or contributing to society. It is interesting to consider, instead of basically saying, “Now that you’ve survived to age twenty-one, have a brew, bro’!”

However, I think celebrating birthdays is celebrating life. Celebrating accomplishments feels like something separate. When we achieve our goals, that’s an additional reason to celebrate. We celebrate what we do at times, but birthdays celebrate who we are, who we are becoming. We pause to honor “being” over “doing.” So maybe accomplishments should be a separate reason to party.

What about those turning twenty-one who aren’t interested in drinking? Can we offer them anything amazing, beautiful, and empowering for them, too?

This can get more creative, especially considering drinking does not go so well for everyone. We can do better at designing a ritual or honoring celebration as we frame turning twenty-one differently.

Here’s one idea, though I don’t see it as a good one. At Purdue in the early 1980’s, the student turning twenty-one got tossed in the local Wabash River by friends. Hopefully, this did not occur in the winter.

Why is drinking the big buzz at twenty-one? Is reaching the legal drinking age what’s important? Let’s celebrate more than that, and make great memories that honor the birthday person with class and thoughtfulness. I’ll check for a Pinterest board to get more good ideas.

Not helpful. But then it’s not up to me, anyway. I’ve been over twenty-one a long time, and celebrated with a banana split on my big day.

Was your twenty-first birthday special? Have you heard any great celebration ideas?

Stay charming, my friends!