Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

On throwing yourself the perfect 21st birthday party

By ZACHARY BAHAR | February 20, 2024

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COURTESY OF ZACHARY BAHAR

Your 21st should be a special one — just make sure you prepare enough food for everyone!

Celebrating your birthday in college can be a weird experience. When I was in elementary and middle school, my parents planned parties each year. They invited my friends and found fun activities for us to do together. As my sisters and I matured, these parties became family dinners or game nights with friends. 

While I enjoyed and was grateful for those memories, my birthday was never a day I looked forward to in concrete terms. Birthdays are fun, but I looked forward to mine less than other holidays or family gatherings. Thus, when I got to college, I never emphasized my birthday. As a freshman, I awkwardly made cookies with some friends in the echoey Wolman kitchen. As a sophomore, I took my friend group to sushi and ice cream. While my second college birthday was far better than the first — mostly due to the people I was surrounded by — it was still a low-key experience.

However, for my 21st birthday, I knew I needed to go all out. While turning 21 is arbitrary, it is the rite of passage that fully marks you as an adult in American society: capable of voting, getting drafted into the military, and most importantly, legally getting drunk. This is not a responsibility to take lightly and requires proper preparations to do right. Here are my recommendations to craft your perfect experience.

Make sure that your friends will be there. While birthday parties are about celebrating the person whose birthday it is, they are also opportunities to tell those you care about how much they mean to you. We all exist in relationships with others, and my college experience has been irrevocably changed by my friends. Your birthday should be an opportunity to sing, dance, laugh and have fun with your friends. 

Helpful Tip: If you want to become friends with someone, consider blindly inviting them to your birthday. What’s the worst that could happen?

Pick a fun theme. Every party needs a theme, otherwise, it’s just a casual get-together. No one wants a birthday casual get-together. So find something dumb, get some cute decorations, double down on it and refuse to elaborate when people ask questions. My 21st was themed around The Great Gatsby, clearly indicated by the note on the invitation that said: “Green Lights Encouraged, Not Required.” If someone doesn’t understand the theme, too bad. It’s not my fault you didn’t get through high school English.

Get food and drinks. While the focus should be on having a good time, food and drinks help — and are a must at a 21st birthday party. Get pizza, cake, candy, chips or whatever else you want. For drinks, the more the better. I personally enjoyed peach soju, tequila and prosecco — having a sparkly wine makes for a very dramatic moment at midnight. If you or any of your friends don’t drink, that’s ok, get non-alcoholic options like sparkling grape juice or cider, Diet Coke and lemonade (you need mixers anyway). Justify drinking so much with your grandfather’s shot glasses or a game. 

Take lots of photos. This is a night you want to remember — even if you aren’t physically capable of remembering all of it. Take photos. Better yet, have someone else take photos. They’ll probably do a better job than you would in this state anyway.

Do something unexplainable the night of. This is a 21st birthday party, don’t be sober. Furthermore, savor the relaxed mental state and do something goofy that will make no sense to anyone the next day. For example, suppose a friend comes to your party with a green cloak — following your encouragement to bring a green light. Get really excited by the thought of wearing a cloak, run back to your bedroom and offer $20 for the cloak on the spot. If they say no, bully them into it. Frankly, it’s rude to bring a cloak into someone’s house and not give it to them. 

Helpful Tip: It’s ok, even encouraged, to beg for your money back the next day. It’s rude to take money from your friends when they’re drunk. And yes, the cloak still belongs to you.

Have a good playlist. You need music to craft the perfect vibe for your party. If this is your talent, go all out making the perfect playlist. It’s not mine. Stealing a playlist from a party you went to in September also works. Just make sure that there are niche songs on there to cater to different friend groups. 

Make a drunken toast. Make sure to tell all of your friends how much it means to you that they are in your life. While you would be 21 with or without them, it is the people who surround you that make the night worth celebrating. The less prepared the speech the better — speak from the heart. Your friends will know your intentions even as your words slur.

Hopefully, these suggestions make your 21st as meaningful as mine. Birthdays are kind of dumb but if there’s an opportunity to treat yourself and your friends to a good night, I can’t recommend it enough.

Happy birthday! Have fun and drink responsibly!

Zachary Bahar does not condone excessive drinking.


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