Missing out on graduation rites is one thing, but missing out on other vital rites of passage during the pandemic is on another level. This year has brought the world so many unexpected things that changed everyone's lives. Students of batch 2020 have missed out on so many things and events that would have made their youth more memorable.
These events include graduation, schoolies week, formals, and summer music festivals that have been canceled because COVID-19 health guidelines do not allow the gathering of large crowds to control the transmission of the disease.
Some also planned to take a gap year overseas that are not able to do so as they are not allowed to leave or for fear of getting the infection. Public discussion of these events being canceled has always focused on the risks of COVID-19 and the possible mental health impacts on young people.
But young people are not merely missing out on wearing fancy clothes or having parties with their friends. These events have a profound social purpose as rites of passage.
Rites of Passage and Their Importance
Social science researchers have recognized the importance of rites of passage for over a century. These events are accompanied by changes in the social status of a certain individual or group.
In 1909, ethnographer Arnold Van Gennep said that the rites of passage have three basic phases. One, it is a symbolic separation from normality either through traveling or costumes. Two, it is an intermediary stage in which people embrace a community spirit as social norms and hierarchies are cast off. And three, it is a ceremonial confirmation of a new state of affairs with symbols, such as a ring or a crown.
Rites of passage create a transformative experience for people and mark a change as special as people step out of ordinary life. It also allows for bonds in the community to strengthen and reaffirm its support for the existing social system.
Missing out on these rites of passage means that young people are also missing out on a transition phase into adulthood. In the past, many would unfairly argue about the risk of schoolies and gap years, but research has found that these acts are rituals to mark and manage the unremarkable transition to adulthood.
They provide a meaningful break from their normal life and past identity. Young people would move out of their comfort zone before transitioning to adulthood.
The Decline in Rites of Passage and Lasting Impact
As young people miss out on their rites of passage, there becomes a decline in these critical life events. Social norms have changed. This can be seen as in debutante balls are no longer a common practice for teenagers, and weddings are no longer frequent for those in their early 20s.
Due to challenging jobs and housing markets, the traditional markers of growing up, like starting a full-time job or moving out of their parents' home, have proven to be more elusive for young people.
Missing out on these events could have lasting impacts on young adults. It could affect the transition into adult society in subtle ways. Without these rites of passage, one would not know when this transition happened. According to Van Gennep, young people are also missing out on chances to bond as a community and to reaffirm their commitment.
But young people these days continue to develop their own replacement by making music during the pandemic, which shows their resilience and creativity. While maintaining the focus on community health and safety, it is important to recognize that these events that seem frivolous and risky serve a significant role to young people as they transition into becoming an adult.
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