Students use social media, FaceTime to celebrate 21st birthdays in quarantine


Illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

Students found new ways to celebrate their 21st birthday during the pandemic. Some drank with their friends online, while others played games and baked with their families to celebrate the milestone birthday.

Ryann Perlstein, Reporter

Instead of hitting up bars downtown or celebrating in their hometowns with high school friends, students are adjusting their 21st birthday celebrations as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With state and local government officials around the country introducing social distancing mandates of varying degrees, students have relied on social media and technology such as FaceTime and Zoom to stay connected and celebrate the milestone birthday.

McCormick junior Sarah Coughlin said she would have been home for her birthday regardless of the pandemic, and planned to go to a few bars with friends from home. Instead, she and her friends celebrated over FaceTime and shared a virtual drink.

“My friends FaceTimed in so I was able to share a drink with them,” Coughlin said. “I think we made the best of it. But (it was) not the 21st I was expecting.”

Students said they mostly celebrated with their families. Weinberg senior Jonathan Aguiar ordered take out from his favorite Italian restaurant. After his family was unable to pick up a birthday cake, he said they baked one.

Had the pandemic not been a concern, Aguiar said he would have gone to the beach in his hometown of Miami, or boating with friends. For him, it felt like an “ordinary” and “boring” day.

Some students said they tried to make the best of the situation, using technology to connect with friends they would’ve spent the day with had they been together. Weinberg junior Afnan Elsheikh said she received a video compilation of her friends wishing her a happy birthday, while other friends sent her food and flowers throughout the day.

“With social media, I feel like I was still connected to my friends,” Elsheikh said. “They were able to FaceTime me and wish me a happy birthday, so it wasn’t too isolating because of that.”

Even though students were able to adapt to the situation, many said it was not ideal, and there was still a feeling of disappointment at having to celebrate virtually.

Communication junior Patrycja Kaluzynska said she was originally excited for her birthday to be on a Thursday, because she didn’t have class on Friday. But as the day approached, she realized her birthday would be spent at home instead of at Northwestern.

“I had to mentally prepare and just kind of be okay with it,” Kaluzynska said. “Especially with the state of the world, it felt like so little to be upset about. But in my life it was something that was important to me.”

While students were able to enjoy their birthdays, many also said they plan on celebrating again after the pandemic is over. When students are able to reunite with their friends, some say they are planning combined birthday parties for everyone who had a birthday while stay-at-home orders were in place.

One of the positive developments of celebrating a birthday during this time, Kaluzynska said, is that she talked to and celebrated with people who she otherwise might not have, as staying at home has given a lot of her friends more free time.

While originally disappointed, many say their birthday celebrations went better than they expected because they were still able to connect with friends, even those living farther away.

Crediting technologies like FaceTime, students said they still felt connected to their friends, which made the day less lonely.

“I honestly had a really good birthday,” Kaluzynska said. “The effort from everybody else to still make it special made me feel a lot less isolated. In the end it was not as bad as I was expecting.”

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Twitter: @ryannperlstein

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