Reimagined Turning 21 tradition celebrates meaningful relationships

Turning 21 is an Elon tradition marking students' 21st birthdays with a celebratory gathering.

One of Elon’s most beloved traditions, Turning 21, has been reimagined to bring together students and their mentors in person to connect, reflect and celebrate over dessert. On Oct. 18 and 24, dozens of students and their mentors gathered for the new Turning 21 to celebrate this important milestone on students’ journeys to adulthood.

Turning 21 is both a celebration of students and a way to honor those who accompany them along their way to adulthood. Twice every semester, students who are turning 21 receive a special invitation to come to the Numen Lumen Pavilion with a staff or faculty member who has been a mentor, support, guide, friend or advisor during their time at Elon.

“It is important to remember that we don’t just wake up one day as a fully grown person – it takes relationships and the investment of so many other people to get us to this place,” said Vice President of Student Life Jon Dooley to the assembled participants at the Oct. 18 gathering.  “So, as you celebrate this, your 21st birthday, my question for you is:  what might it be like for you to acknowledge this moment, reflect on who you were, who you are, and who you hope to be, and take the time to love and to thank the family, the friends, and the mentors who brought you to this place?”

Mentors and mentees at the Fall 2023 Turning 21 celebration

This Elon tradition was started by Chaplain Emeritus Richard McBride to encourage students to think about the transition to adulthood as a significant event, marked by more than the ability to legally purchase an alcoholic drink. Turning 21 started as dinner banquets, moved to coffee conversations over the pandemic, and now has been reimagined to allow students and their mentors to celebrate together.

“Turning 21 is a time to think about and understand the responsibilities, privileges, understandings, and joys that are part of adulthood. We encourage our Elon students to think about their 21st birthday as an opportunity – a coming of age that we want to celebrate together in community with some of the people who matter most to us,” said University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement Kirstin Boswell.

Mentors and mentees at the Fall 2023 Turning 21 celebration

Student and faculty participants raved about the reinvented Turning 21, as theyenjoyed delicious desserts, hot drinks, and meaningful time together.  The attendees were invited to discuss questions about coming of age, birthday memories, and the reasons they were at the Turning 21 gathering.

“This event exemplifies Elon,” said one participant, explaining that the focus on mentoring relationships and meaningful connections is such an essential part of the Elon experience.

“This is an incredible way to mark my birthday on campus,” another student shared. “It was a break in my day, a meaningful opportunity to just talk to my mentor, and it also feels like a real celebration.”

That emphasis on celebrating meaningful relationships is an essential part of Turning 21.  Students are asked to write a reflection to that staff or faculty member who has been a support, a guide, a friend, or an advisor during their time at Elon ahead of the event. And as part of the gathering, that reflection is shared with their mentor before raising a celebratory (non-alcoholic) toast together.

Mentors and mentees at the Fall 2023 Turning 21 celebration

“At Turning 21 we invite students to think about who they want to be for the rest of their lives, and the impact of Elon’s warm and supportive community on their journey,” said Interim Assistant Dean of Multifaith Engagement Hillary Zaken.  “And, of course, to do that with lots of laughter, conversation, and fun!”

This spring, there will be two more Turning 21 gatherings, and students who turn 21 will receive invitations from the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life to participate in this beloved Elon tradition.