What if our ‘rites of passage’ are wrong for some?

Jaime Fields, A&E Reporter

There are several “rites of passage” in a young adult’s life: you get a permit when you’re 15, then a license a year later. You go to prom, graduate high school, go to college. You drink “for the first time” at 21 (or at least that’s what you tell your parents). You graduate college, then go to grad school or get a job. You get married, maybe. Have kids. You jump through all the hoops to have a “normal” life.

I’m here to tell you it’s all bullshit.

Not everyone needs to go to prom, and not everyone needs to go to college right after high school, or even at all! You don’t even need to have a “good” reason. Maybe you hate crowds, or dancing, or dressing up, and maybe traditional schooling never really worked for you — or maybe you just plain old don’t want to. You do not have to pass through the same rituals as everyone else in order to have a good life.

This applies to the small things as well as the big ones. A first year who’s never had Taq in the wheat fields is still a student at Whitman College, and someone who gets a job instead of going to college can still have a “successful” life.

All of this may seem obvious. Well, yeah, you say. Obviously different choices and paths in life are valid. But still, there is so much societal pressure to just jump through the next hoop. 

I have friends who feel guilty for not attending college, even though they know it would make them miserable, or who feel like it’s too late to go back to college now that they’re older. I know someone whose trade apprenticeship allows him to live comfortably and do interesting, fulfilling work every day, who still feels like he isn’t “successful” because he doesn’t have a bachelor’s. Even those who are strongly convicted in their choices find themselves apologizing and justifying themselves to their parents, their friends and those around them.

So why do we feel this way? Part of it is tradition — from what we know, this is what has always been done. A large part of it is the media, from those Disney channel movies that tell you that prom will be the defining event of your young life to the culture of constantly comparing yourself to what you see everyone else doing on social media. We’re fed these ideas from a young age, and it turns into something subconscious.

That’s not to say that this mindset is impossible to escape — but in order to escape it, we have to consciously recognize what we’re thinking and why. When your friend tells you that they’re not going to college because they found a great job in construction, don’t tell them “but you’re too smart for that!” Tell them how happy you are for their new job and remind yourself that college is not best for everyone. When you start criticizing yourself for being 22 and not having a driver’s license, stop and remind yourself that nothing says you have to get one at 16 — and if you choose to get one in the future, your insurance will be cheaper as an adult anyways.

All of this is important to keep in mind especially now, as all of our old traditions get turned on their heads. The seniors of 2020 and 2021 didn’t get their end-of-year parties, and Commencement looks nothing like it once did. There was no prom. Many students chose to leave school, and some may never come back.

As we re-emerge back into a social, in-person society, traditions will change, as will our perception of the “traditional” life path. And maybe it should. Maybe we’ll recognize that prom isn’t the life-changing event the movies show and that college isn’t necessary to prove a person’s intelligence. Maybe we’ll stop pressuring people to settle down before they’re ready. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll be allowed to take life at our own pace.

No matter the expectations, just remember: don’t make your choices based on what other people think is important. Do what you know will be best for you.