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The 21st Birthday

Bob Kessler | Friday, September 18, 2009

When I first made the commitment to leave the country for a year of post-graduate service the things that I initially thought about were not the places I would go, the people I would meet and how much different my life would be for a year in China, but rather the things that I would be certain to miss while I was gone. I instantly knew there would be four times when I would desperately wish I hadn’t left the country and was home with my friends and family.

This weekend marks the first of them (with the other three being Christmas, USC Weekend and Thanksgiving).

Those of you that have gotten past that painfully boring intro are probably now wondering why this weekend is so important. Sure our team is playing in the make or break game of the make or break season against a team whose players and supporters always seem to find new lows in classlessness; but how could I be so disappointed about not being at a game against a team whose fans once told me with complete seriousness, “win or lose: we burn couches.”

I am disappointed not because I am missing another Notre Dame Football weekend and all of the revelry that comes with it; I am disappointed because today is my little sister’s 21st Birthday and I cannot be in South Bend to celebrate.

While all birthdays can be fun if they are celebrated correctly (at least until you turn the age of 37) the 21st Birthday is the landmark birthday for American youth. Sixteen is nice and all because you can get your driver’s license. Seventeen is fine and dandy because you can enter R-rated films. Eighteen is overrated because nobody really gets that excited about cigarettes, strip clubs and lottery tickets (at least not most Notre Dame Students). Twenty-one, however, is the one truly life-altering birthday.

The difference between 21 and other significant birthdays is that the privileges we earn on the others are nice to have, but things we had previously lived just fine without. Most of us had older friends to drive us before we turned 16, didn’t really need to see those R-rated films before we were 17 and probably haven’t utilized our rights as an 18-year old to this day. By the time we turn 21, however, most of us have been illegally drinking alcohol for quite a few years and are relieved to know that we are no longer breaking any ridiculously unnecessary laws.

Turning 21 not only gives us the privilege to order wine with our parents at dinner (I hope you like red, Julie because the Kessler family can now legally kill a bottle over dinner); the privilege of entering Finny’s, The Backer and Fever with our friends (although, Julie, I’m pretty sure I already saw you once at Fever); and the right to purchase our own beverages in stores (but hopefully not for any 18-year old brothers that attend the University of Wisconsin); turning 21 also marks the end of our law breaking years. Julie, now that you are 21, you will probably never break the law again (but then again, there is that 18-year old brother … and the 15-year old one).

The great thing about celebrating a 21st Birthday is that it is the only birthday where everybody is as excited as you are. When you turn 21 you get the right to legally drink, and your friends get the right to legally drink with you. I enjoyed my friend’s 21st Birthdays more than I enjoyed my own because as great as it was to enter Finny’s for the first time, it was even better when I was first able to bring my closest friends to there and The Backer. Twenty-first birthdays are a group celebration and for my sister’s, I wish I could be a part of the group (actually, I would have been leading the group).

When I first arrived at Notre Dame I was told that by the end of four years my friends would be family, which turned out to be completely true. What I never expected when my sister arrived two years ago was that by the time I left Notre Dame she would be one of my friends, something that really hadn’t been true since we were running around the family room to our dad’s Maynard Ferguson records 18 years ago (and on select Sunday nights in high school when we bonded over the attractiveness of Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan in Alias).

While I can’t be there for her 21st Birthday today, I trust that my family will make sure she has the time of her life, and when I say family I don’t just mean our parents and brothers, but all my Notre Dame friends that have promised me they will take her to The Backer tonight, do as I would have done, and strongly encourage her to stay until 3 a.m.

So if you see my sister around campus today, at tailgates tomorrow, or in the bars this weekend wish her a happy birthday, and maybe buy her a long island iced tea, because oh, what a night it will be.

Happy Birthday Julie.

Bob Kessler is a 2009 graduate that arrogantly

considers himself to be the foremost expert on Notre Dame culture. He currently writes Things Notre Dame Students Like, and you can read more of his work at the17thgrade.com. He can be reached at bob020787@gmail.com

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.