daily californian logo


Reflecting on birthdays away from home

article image


We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

NOVEMBER 15, 2023

Last Monday, I turned 23 years old, marking the second birthday I’ve celebrated at UC Berkeley. I spent the day just like any other Monday: attending classes, club meetings and office hours. 

The people around me made my birthday special: I invited my closest friends to my apartment for drinks and good company. Most of the presents I received were six-packs of beer, which is the best present a college student can receive. My favorite case of beer was the Guinness — a nice change of pace from the cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon I drink often. 

However, my last two birthdays have been difficult because I celebrated them away from home and without my family. Every year, my mom would barge into my room and greet me with a happy birthday song at midnight. 

This year was particularly challenging for me, because turning 23 is not the kind of milestone people consider worth celebrating. 

A year before coming to UC Berkeley, I spent my 21st birthday running the Los Angeles Marathon with one of my best friends, ending the night barhopping with memorable company. In American culture, the most important birthday celebration is when you turn 21, since earning the legal right to drink marks the beginning of adulthood. For me, one of the best parts is having your face all over your friends’ Instagram stories in celebration. 

Since I was a kid, I frankly haven’t felt as excited for a birthday celebration as I did for my 21st. Two years later, I still don’t. There isn’t any noticeable change between 22 and 23, so turning 23 years old is just not as special. Despite the deeply appreciated efforts of my friends and family, I did not look forward to my birthday this year.

Regardless, I feel immensely grateful that I get to celebrate another year of life. While I always take time to reflect on another year gone, this one was particularly contemplative because my good friend asked me two questions: “What do you feel the most proud of from this past year?” and “What do you want to accomplish in the coming year?”

I think I’ve asked myself a version of these questions before, but being confronted with them in person forced me to think more critically about my response. 

In short, my answer to both is that it’s hard to say. I’m proud that I’ve done so much with what little time I’ve had at UC Berkeley. For starters, I finished my first year of college, which was something I didn’t always have planned for myself. I’m also proud of the opportunities I took a chance on — I’m glad I still tried, even where I fell short. While scary at times, writing for The Daily Californian has been a highlight of my personal and academic life. 

But I don’t think my friend intended for me to respond with an immediate answer. Instead, the questions were active reminders to reflect on my gratitude. 

This whole year, I’ve felt behind on my responsibilities. Even looking into the future, I’m constantly panicking at the thought of where I’ll land next.

But a birthday is a time to celebrate yourself and be hopeful about the future. It’s a time when the day is yours, and on this day, I think it’s only fair to appreciate what you’ve done and what you can do. Whatever his intention was, I am thankful to my friend for reminding me that turning another year older is more important than whatever milestone we attach to it. 

A week has gone by since I turned 23, and I don’t feel as reflective as I did on that day. Eventually, I’ll forget all about the questions from that day, and before I know it, next November will creep up on me, and I’ll be 24.

What I am most looking forward to within the next year is making the same connections that allowed me to feel excited about my birthday. I hope that I can find a mentor or a professor to give me my first birthday hug — just like this year — and that the friends I either make or keep will continue to buy me beer. What’s a better gift for a 24 year old, anyway?

Luis Allen writes the Wednesday column on the experience of being an average, at times even underachieving, student in a school where the standard for academic achievement is set so high. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter

NOVEMBER 15, 2023