Tomorrow I turn seventeen


I stopped dancing this year. I started fighting with my words. I stopped worrying about getting pulled over for driving past 10 PM (I’m still sixteen). I started using my voice.

Birthdays are strange. The idea of this day has been glorified by our society to be a day of change– a day of rebirth. I often catch myself asking others (on their birthdays) how they feel now that they’re another 365.2422 days older, but it doesn’t occur to me that one year older is not equal to one year wiser.

One biological year could bring its equivalent in personal growth. It could bring less than that, or it could bring more: one year older, ten years wiser.

I remember that fifteen-year-old girl. She felt nervous when confronting people. She cried and cried over her clumsiness behind the steering wheel, and she dreaded driving with her dad in the passenger seat. Her mom was still in China with her little brother. Even well into her sixteenth year, she still felt ages younger. She thought that life- life as she knew it- would continue on like this, a piece of driftwood floating down an idle river.

It wasn’t an overnight transformation that happened to me on September 28th, 2016; I changed without realizing each small detail. A year ago today, I never would have imagined my life like it is now.

When I was younger, I thought the most important day of the year for any given person was his or her birthday. It’s the epitome of self-celebration; it’s a day of “you.” It ought to be a life-changing night, setting the mood for the upcoming year. My parents used to tell me if I cried on my birthday, the entire year would also be filled with tears due to an emotional precursor for what’s to come. Of course, this myth was told for the purposes of keeping me well-behaved, but the idea of birthdays being “monumental” was ingrained into my mind.

But birthdays aren’t that. They aren’t milestones; they’re merely checkpoints.

But birthdays aren’t that. They aren’t milestones; they’re merely checkpoints.

My sixteenth birthday wasn’t the be-all end-all to the days that came after it. It was like many other Wednesday’s: one-hour delay, school, track workout. I had taken my driving test a month before school started, so I didn’t spend my birthday worrying about that, either. If that had been the preview of my year, I would have had a fairly boring year.

Looking back, I didn’t grow up when I turned sixteen. I grew up in so many moments after that day and each experience built upon the previous one. Adapting to family members moving back didn’t happen overnight, and I still haven’t completely adjusted to it yet. I still don’t know how I feel about my parent’s divorce. However, each factor of uncertainty doesn’t mean that I’m not growing; I’ve matured just by getting by.

Deciding to quit dance was one of the most difficult choices I have ever had to make, but it was the right one; nothing but my last year dancing could have taught me that. I learned that my words hold power, but the confidence in my words holds something even stronger. The past twelve months have given me chance after chance to use my words in projecting my voice.

In the last year, I’ve had the happiest moment of my life as well as the saddest moment. I’ve had everything in between. I have been in the scariest situation early one afternoon and felt the most love later that same day. I’ve learned independence like I’ve never known, but I’ve also depended deeply on people. I’ve lost and gained trust with others and in others. Each experience has been a “growing up” moment that far outshines any progress I can make on a single birthday.

Age isn’t just a number– it’s a gradient. I’m still sixteen years old, but I’m far from the sixteen-year-old who got to drive alone to the Allendale cross country meet three days after getting her license. I’m no longer the sixteen-year-old eight months ago who cried in AP Chem every week; I’m not even the same sixteen-year-old from three weeks ago, who sprained her ankle on a run. Tomorrow, I’ll be seventeen, and while that means a lifetime of driving past 10 PM, I’ll still be more similar to the sixteen-year-old of today than the seventeen-year-old one month (or eleven months) from now.