‘I’m just trying to make the most of this’: COVID-19 alters 21st birthday plans this year

Students clink drinks at House Party, located in Johnny Kaws, before the pandemic. (Archive Photo by Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

In normal times, turning 21 is a milestone many students celebrate with big parties and trips to the bars. But these aren’t normal times.

Back in March, Ryan Gilbert, senior in mass communications, planned to go to the Kansas City Power and Light District to celebrate his birthday with friends. Those plans went up in smoke as businesses shut down and everything — from the NBA season to life on college campuses — came to a screeching halt.

“That night, we didn’t go out,” Gilbert said. “Some of my friends and family just came over to my house that night and had a few too many drinks, but it was still fun. It was obviously different, but I made the most of it.”

Though Gilbert hoped to celebrate with more people, he said only about 10 people came over that night.

“I really never got that true 21st experience that most college students get in their time,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert said he goes to the bars in Manhattan some weekends now, but it is not the same with masks, social distancing and requirements for people to remain seated.

“This is my senior year, and I didn’t necessarily have the best semester last semester because everything was shutting down,” Gilbert said. “I’m just trying to make the most of this really, because … if I don’t then I’ll probably just regret every moment that I sat in my room and did nothing on a weekend night.”

Before the pandemic, Elizabeth Mulholland, senior in kinesiology and Spanish, planned to have her entire family come to Manhattan on April 18 to celebrate her 21st birthday. Instead, she spent her birthday locked down in Overland Park.

“I didn’t get to see any friends, which was sad,” Mulholland said. “My mom made me a special breakfast and I just hung out with my mom and dad. Some of my friends dropped off some gifts, which was nice. For dinner, my aunt and uncle came to my house and we stood outside on opposite sides of the patio and talked.”

Mulholland said she would still encourage people to try to celebrate their birthdays safely.

“Try to do something outside, whether it’s going to a park or tailgate outside,” Mulholland said. “Even though it’s a pandemic, I would still try to spend time with somebody within the guidelines— six feet [apart] with masks on.”

Lane Porter, senior in secondary education and mathematics, originally hoped to spend the Friday after his birthday in Aggieville celebrating with his band friends. After COVID-19 hit, he spent the months leading up to Aug. 17 thinking of creative ways to celebrate.

“Around that time, this really popular game called ‘Fall Guys’ came out,” Porter said. “I was like ‘This game is actually pretty fun, but how would I do if I was playing it drunk?’ I decided that for that Friday of my birthday week, I would do a 21st birthday stream where I would take a shot every time I lost.”

Porter said his friends could watch online via his live stream, so no one physically came to his house beside his roommates.

“It was a good time for everybody,” Porter said. “A lot of my friends watched the stream, my roommates laughed at me doing dumb stuff, and it was hilarious.”

Although the online gaming stream was not in Porter’s original plan, he said it was the most fun he had playing a video game in a while.

“To the people that are still trying to have fun on their 21st, just plan it out thoroughly,” Porter said. “You shouldn’t make it a risk to anyone, and you can still have fun with it even under COVID-19 conditions.”