Birthdays are strange. Some people look forward to their special day all year, counting down the days until they’re finally another year older. Some get so into this countdown idea that they even make a point to celebrate their half–birthdays. Other, more normal, people choose only to recognize the actual day of their birth as a day worthy of festivity. I don’t really fall into either of those categories. Honestly, I’ve never been huge on birthdays.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the hype. You’re another year older, and surviving another year is worth celebrating. A lot of people buy into the idea of making their birthday this day of debauchery and excess. One might use their birthday as an excuse to treat oneself to an especially carb-filled dinner or to shirk responsibility and get drunk with their friends on a Tuesday. As a bona fide hedonist, I’m already used to making regrettable decisions on the regular, so my birthday’s end up falling in line with the norm.
Being at college, and more specifically at Cornell, every birthday has been given a certain importance. Your 19th is the first birthday away from your family and the last year of your teenage life. Your 20th is the first birthday of your twenties and likely your first birthday living off-campus, unless you live on West, in which case your 20th can be an opportunity to go crazy at the ice cream bar at the Keeton dining hall or whatever. Your 21st is a big one because you can finally pay $21 at Rulloff’s for a pitcher that tastes like Keystone Ice with a hint of orange zest. Even if you’re not big on birthdays, we can all agree that these birthdays inherently carry some importance.
What exactly, if anything, is so important about your 22nd birthday? It’s the age at which you’ll probably graduate, so I guess you could find importance in it being your last birthday at Cornell, but as a senior I can tell you that every senior brings up “lasts” way too often. For example, I was almost convinced to go to fishbowls last week because it was the sixth-to-last fishbowls before graduation. If you’re a senior, everyday is your last something, so no one should take a last birthday here all that seriously.
A 22nd birthday reminds me a lot of the notoriously difficult Cornell computer science class, CS 3410: it’s nothing I’ve ever experienced and I don’t really know what to think of it. My mom always told me that there was probably a song to explain every complex idea in life, so I did a quick Google search and it ended up yielding some pretty fascinating answers. Of the many songs that came up, I found Taylor Swift’s 2012 pop-country-rock crossover ballad, “22” to be particularly useful in finding some meaning behind 22nd birthdays.
In the song, Taylor laments the follies of life as a 22-year-old. She cries, “we’re happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time.” These words cut me like a dull knife that someone had recently sharpened. Swift goes on to claim, “It feels like a perfect night for breakfast at midnight.” These words cut me like a sharp knife that someone had recently made even sharper. I too always feel that every night is perfect for pancakes at midnight, and to hear someone else put my thoughts into song truly opened my eyes to the anxiety behind the 22nd year of one’s life. Yes, McDonalds did offer 24-hour breakfast, but who has the energy to drive all the way there at midnight?
On Tuesday, I took the plunge and turned 22. It was no easy experience for me. As Taylor Swift so aptly claims, “it felt like one of those nights.” Turning 22, like CS 3410, is no easy task. What does one do? What does one not do? What happens if one meets someone that “…looks like bad news,” as Swift does in her song? These ideas haunted me all day and night. Nah, just kidding.
Ultimately, I’ve realized that turning 22 doesn’t really make you feel any different, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth celebrating or at the very least acknowledging. At 22, you’re sort of just an actual adult finally, but if Taylor Swift taught me anything, it’s that you don’t have to like an adult at 22.
One line in Taylor’s song will always stick with me. At the climax of her four minute epic, Swift lets out some of her most profound lyrics to date: “dancing like 22, yeah, 22, yeah yeah.” If Cornell let their students put a quote in the yearbook under their picture I think I would choose that. I think there are a lot of words I could use to describe how these lyrics make me feel, but ultimately, I guess I’m just feeling 22.
Akshay Jain is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. College Stuff appears every other Wednesday this semester.