Social distancing guidelines disrupt 21st birthday celebrations


Photo courtesy of Sarah Snavely

Sarah Snavely, a junior mechanical engineering major, celebrates her 21st birthday with a family Zoom call.

By Anna Ligorio, Staff Writer

Olivia Sesso watched from 300 miles away as her family blew out the candles on her 21st birthday cake.

Sesso, who is still living off campus in Oakland, turned 21 on April 5. But with bars and liquor stores closed statewide and on-campus life at a standstill, she and other Pitt students are finding different ways to celebrate turning 21 this spring.

My friend Zach came over, we ordered food and had dinner, and my mom and nana both baked cakes and FaceTimed me,” Sesso said. “They put candles in the cake and sang to us and blew out the candles for us.”

Before classes were cancelled and students had to move home, some had detailed plans for their birthday celebrations in Oakland. Noah Hake, who turned 21 on March 23, had originally planned for his whole family to fly into Pittsburgh to celebrate with him.

“The weekend of the 23rd, all of my siblings had made flight arrangements to come to Pittsburgh to celebrate,” the sophomore finance major said. “Assuming we went back to campus on the planned date, we were going to go to the Hofbräuhaus, because they have really good beer.”

Other students had specific plans as well. Sarah Snavely, a junior mechanical engineering major, had planned to go to her sorority formal the night of April 4, and then go out to bars with friends after to celebrate her officially turning 21 at midnight.

“My one roommate is co-oping in Texas, so she was supposed to fly up for the weekend and go to the formal with us because she’s also in my sorority as well,” she said.

Instead, to stay responsible among the pandemic and practice effective social distancing, she only celebrated with her roommates in her apartment.

“It was a small apartment celebration,” she said. “My friends bought decorations on Amazon and we hung them up, and then we just kind of chilled for the night.”

Zach Liu, a computer science major who turned 21 on April 6, likewise couldn’t celebrate with his family in person — he decided to stay put in his Oakland apartment for safety reasons.

“Currently, my parents are working in China right now, so I could have gone to my other relatives’ place, but I didn’t choose to because I have a lot of school work to do here and it’s not smart or safe to travel,” Liu said.

For Liu, his birthday is just another day, especially because of the halt of everyday life that has occurred.

“I’m probably not even going to go outside, and to be honest with you I don’t really have anything special I want to do on my birthday. It’s pretty much the same as any other day for me, because I’ve been doing the same thing everyday for the past two weeks,” Liu said.

Even though he wasn’t able to have a big celebration with friends or family, Liu said he didn’t mind having a low-key birthday.

“Personally, I was never a huge fan of having birthdays. Sometimes I feel like they are stressful because everyone wants you to have the best day ever,” he said.

Snavely was disappointed in the situation as well, but like Liu, she said she has never been a big fan of her birthday in the first place, and the circumstances caused by the pandemic made it a little harder to deal with.

“It was disappointing, especially having everyone remind me and say that they are sorry for me,” Snavely said. “I don’t really like celebrating my birthday, so it didn’t matter as much to me as it might to others. It was just nice to have a few of my friends over to show that they cared about me.”

For Sesso, however, the virus destroyed birthday expectations that have been patiently awaited for years.

“You wait so long to be 21, and then when it finally hits midnight you sing ‘Happy Birthday’ and then everyone goes to the bars,” she said. “You wait to do that for so long and then like, we couldn’t, and now we have to wait until everything opens up again and then it’s not even your birthday anymore. It’s not as exciting.”

Even though students may have had to downsize their birthday parties because of the virus, some plan on celebrating again in the near future. Hake hopes that he can celebrate with his family at a bar sometime in the near future.

“I can’t really make concrete plans right now because of the virus, but I think I probably will hope to go out sometime in the summer when things reopen,” said Hake. “I just want to go to the bar.”