The phrase “coming of age ritual” brings ideas of primitive, foreign and superstitious nonsense. Yet most people forget about the modern ritual performed by families world-wide8212;sending children to university. Developed countries hold this ritual in great esteem and preach its significance to children from the moment they enter primary school.
In the past, coming-of-age rituals held great significance, stemming from the universal need in all burgeoning societies in order to determine two things: how old a boy had to be before he could work and how old a girl had to be before she could wed.
In Rome, a boy hung up his “bulla”, or protective amulet, had his name added to the list of citizens in the forum and thanked the gods for his new place in the world as a man. He would then spend a year with a man well-reputed in either civil or martial matters, and in an apprenticeship of sorts, would train to become as great a man as his teacher. This is certainly similar to the studious undertakings of modern college students today as they discover over their four-year ceremony, how they too may become great names in their fields.
The young men and women of Judaism undergo similar tutelage under a Rabbi as they study the Torah, alongside learning Hebrew in preparation for his or her Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a traditional Jewish coming-of-age ceremony. In Latino societies, young girls are lavishly welcomed into womanhood by the festive QuinceaÃÂ±era at the age of 15. These are often costly affairs, similar to the debutante balls hosted by American high-society families for centuries.
Yet there is a major difference between these rituals and attending university. A Roman boy would hang up his “bulla” between the ages of 14 and 17. Jewish boys and girls celebrate their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs at the ages of 13 and 12 respectively. College students are, on average, 18 years old. Why such a dramatic shift in ages? These rituals marked a person’s eligibility for marriage, which meant children and lots of them, as the eras in which these rituals took place necessitated quick breeding. Humans now have longer lifespans and lower infant mortality rates. Sheer population is no longer a problem. Because of this, humanity can now focus on improving the lives of its people, thus, a four-year ritual occurring at a later age is both possible and beneficial.
On my 16th birthday, my maternal grandmother offered me a string of pearls. My mother is English and, following that tradition, a girl becomes a woman at 16. To mark the occasion, the birthday girl receives a string of pearls. I was born and raised in America, so I have been, for the most part, isolated from my European heritage. This gift reconnects me to my foremothers, the millions of English women who also received pearls upon their 16th year. In the same way, attending university not only connects me to fellow Horned Frogs, but to the millions of young people across the world partaking of the same coming-of-age rite.
Samantha Hunter is a freshman anthropology major from Fort Worth.