On Turning Twenty-One

I turned 21 this year, and I think the experience was different for me than it was for a lot of my peers.

After starting at university at 15 and graduating at 20, I felt like I have been 21 for a long time.

All of my friends are in their mid-twenties at this point, and there I was, the minor. But nobody remembered my age (which didn’t help me remember it either)! I cannot tell you how many times I was invited to 21 and over restaurants, bars, parties, etc. and had to decline because of my age.

Then, I would be met with the awkward conversation of, “Oh, I forgot how young you were… sorry.” But then a little while later, I would find myself back at that conversation. However, worse than having to decline an invitation is being neglected completely, and luckily, that hasn’t happened often.

Second, I have been left out of so many opportunities because of my age, and it sucks.

How I spent my birthday: Breakfast with family. Dinner with my husband and a friend. Trans Siberian Orchestra concert.
How I spent my birthday: Breakfast with family. Dinner with my husband and a friend. Trans Siberian Orchestra concert.

Twice, I missed opportunities to network with people in my career field because their chosen venue did not allow those under 21 years old. Most recently, this happened just ten days before my 21st birthday.

I don’t blame my peers (the world does not revolve around me; there will always be more networking opportunities), but I do think that we, as a country, need to reevaluate our legal drinking age.

How insane is it that I was able to have a B.A., vote, be married, and do a lot of other things, but I couldn’t network with people in my career field because of my age?

With that, I wouldn’t have even been able to sit in the passenger’s seat while my husband drove with a learner’s permit. No matter that I had five years of driving experience, a college degree, or that I was married to him; I couldn’t sit there because I was only twenty.

My young age hasn’t just been a curse and a source of angst for me, though. I have been able to learn from watching my friends turn 21 and go through the struggles of being “old enough.”

I have learned that drinking too much leads to getting too friendly with the commode.

I have learned that being “old enough” means bearing more responsibilities for yourself than you previously had to.

I have learned that drinking isn’t the point of turning 21. The point is to learn self-control.

The best part is that I didn’t have to learn any of this “the hard way.” I was able to learn it all from the comfort of my home and “under-21” venues (i.e., restaurants).

I still have four years until my brain is fully developed, so I still have a lot of learning and growing to do. However, the lessons I learned before turning 21 are those that many people don’t learn until after 21. I believe that the best way to learn about our limits with alcohol, to prevent alcohol-related injuries and driving violations, to allow students to focus on their work, and to let us learn these lessons is to lower the legal age of drinking and let kids get it out before they get behind the wheel.

I definitely don’t have the answers, nor have I personally done research on the matter, but I do have my own personal experiences, and I believe that it’s high time we reevaluate our policy towards alcohol… especially since so many kids drink anyway. Let their first experiences be with their parents, not hiding away with friends.

Turning 21 was very symbolic for me. It meant that, for the first time, I would feel truly a part of my circle of friends and feel somewhat competent in front of my peers. I am no longer “that girl that had to stay behind.” Now I can go out with my peers, not drink (or drink just a little), and not be conscious of my young age.

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