Tag Archives: coming of age

Yearbooks as Folk Art

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (MS). 

MS: So, a yearbook is traditionally issued at the end of the school year when you’re in elementary school through high school… and they have pictures of everyone in the school taken throughout the year… and you’ll usually write messages in your friends’ books.

LT: But not all messages are equal (laughs). 

MS: Yeah, like in elementary school, everyone just wrote their names because we didn’t know how to write many things, but generally, in high school, it’s bad to just write “HAGS,” which means have a good summer… you want to write something more heartfelt because people often keep yearbooks and will want to be able to reminisce on memories and stuff in the future, so you need good messages. If someone writes “HAGS,” they probably don’t know you that well. 


MS is one of my best friends, and she grew up in Los Angeles. She got her first yearbook when she was six years old, at the end of Kindergarten. She often jokes that she’s a “hoarder” because she keeps a lot of things for their sentimental value, including yearbooks. She actually just read through all of her old yearbooks the night before our interview since she “wasn’t doing anything better during quarantine.” Her favorite thing about yearbooks is reading the messages. She likes to think about who she’s still friends with and who she doesn’t stay in touch with. She also likes the messages that remind her of memories she wouldn’t have thought of on her own. 


MS and I normally see each other most days at USC, and we’ve been continuing to FaceTime often during this quarantine period. This piece was collected during a “Zoom Happy Hour” with our friend group. 


In American culture, we often stress the importance of being “cool in high school.” Media often promotes the idea that an American teen’s self worth can be measured in how many friends they have. Yearbooks are a physical way we can quanitize that. I remember reading through my mom’s old yearbooks as a child, and I was so impressed by how many people had signed it. When I was in high school, I would actually get stressed and feel pressured to make sure every blank page in my book was covered with signatures. Now, as a college student, I don’t even know where most of my yearbooks are. In MS’s case, it’s nice to reminisce about the memories with dear, old friends. However, she doesn’t particularly care about the messages written by people she wasn’t close to. Yearbooks symbolize the things that felt so important as a teenager that don’t particularly matter later in life. Inherently, yearbooks are a really sweet tradition that should be treated more authentically. 

The Ritual of Grad Night

Main Piece: 

The following is transcribed from a conversation between me (LT) and my informant (AT). 

AT: For high school graduation, either right before or right after you do your graduation ceremony, it’s usually sometime during that week… There’s this other, more casual ceremony called Grad Night, where you stay up all night with your classmates doing different things. It varies from school to school and year to year and stuff, like I know some schools do DisneyLand, but at my school, we went to LACMA after hours, and they literally took us to a bar! (Laughs) They only had non-alcoholic drinks though. We then went to a bowling alley… and… a comedy club… it’s honestly hard to remember at this point where exactly we went. We just stayed up going different places around LA.

LT: What’s the point of it? 

AT: No matter what you do, the point is it’s just that last time you’re all together as a class. Like ours was after graduation, and I remember watching people get picked up and just thinking “I might never see them again.” 


AT is a twenty-three-year-old from Los Angeles, where she attended a private all girls high school. Like most private schools in LA, this school was known for having elaborate events, including Grad Night, so she had been waiting for her own ever since she first attended the school. In addition, AT says that due to the nature of her school being very small and all girls, Grad Night in particular is historically very emotional. She also says that Grad Night felt more ‘real’ than the graduation ceremony because it was more casual and “actually felt like we were just hanging out, and it’s where I said goodbye to a lot of people.” 


AT is one of my relatives with whom I’m quarantining. This piece was collected in our living room as we were sitting at our kitchen table. 


I think Grad Night speaks to the greater idea Americans have of adolescence. There are countless American movies that take place during a character’s senior year or the summer after high school, symbolizing the end of their childhood. While some societies put an emphasis on aging and wisdom, our society values youth, and it depicts the transition into adulthood as being stark and not gradual, hence the need to fit in as many memories as possible before that youth runs out. Grad Night is a perfect and exaggerated example of this. High school graduation is arguably the most significant milestone in terms of becoming an American adult, and Grad Night is essentially put on by the school so the students can have their last chance at making childhood memories. We hold this belief that you can’t have fun once you grow up, so there’s an added importance to the end of high school to ‘live while you still can.’ 

For more background on the emotional significance of Grad Night:

Spicer, Susan. “12-14 Years: Grad Night.” Today’s Parent, vol. 27, no. 6, 06, 2010, pp. 148-148,151

High School Senior Streaking Prank

IG: Ha, every year in high school in the spring the seniors would go to someone’s house who lived next to the high school and take off all their clothes and then we would run through the high school campus and it was really funny because everybody would leave class to watch us and then everybody would get their grade docked because all the teacher were hella against it and then every year the principal would stand there with just his like arms crossed but also like shading his eyes because it was so weird to look at your students naked but it was so funny because we would wear masks, obviously, so it would be kind of anonymous but then one year (laughs) my best friend fell (laughs) and she was bleeding and then somebody- like her mask like sorta fell off and then somebody in the crowd ripped it off so she had to (laughs) she had to run naked and bleeding and her face was out through like- we have a huge campus because it was a really big public school and it was really funny and then once we got to the end of the route of the run the gates were all locked so we all had to climb over a fence which was so painful because your bare legs are out and everything, but it was so fun and it happens every year so you just have to do it even if you don’t really want to-

VG: Oh my god!

IG: Yeah

VG: Where- Where- Where did you go to high school?

IG: ****** High School.

VG: Is that in ****, ****?

IG: Yeah, it has like 4,000 students.

A: Yeah, sorry, that sounds a lot like ****.

IG: Yeah, totally.

VG: That’s so funny though.

IG: It was rite of passage for sure.

VG: Yeah.

IG: Yeah, but also like so inappropriate. We wer-We were on the streets of Berkeley naked cause we had to get from the house to the school.

VG: So, it’s illegal.

(A laughs)

IG: Yeah, exactly. I know! And people were drinking and…I mean you had to get up some nerve- probably a lot of people, so…it was like extra illegal and then you would have friends who would be the getaway cars, waiting for you, which was so hard to ma- like manage because not everyone can fit. And then one year, it was so chaotic that somebody- my neighbor like crashed into another car- not like badly, but he just like skimmed the side, and everybody’s already trying to get you in trouble that day, so then just to do that next to the school was so bad- but then it was ok because the school was pretty lenient because everybody got in trouble all the time…so yeah. It was great.



Location of story – Northern California  

Location of Performance – Classroom, Los Angeles, CA, late morning


Context: This performance was done in a group of 3-4 people after a class in response to a question about potential high school traditions, festivals, jokes, or riddles. IG was unsure at first and then was enthusiastic about sharing once she remembered this story. Hers followed one joke made. IG and I are classmates. I censored the high school name for privacy reasons. 


Analysis: There are many obvious and severe breeches of normal social decorum as well as the law in the continuation of this tradition. The fact that it still exists demonstrates how integral this performance is to the school and surrounding community’s identity; if they did not see that it was worth the benefits, they would most likely be able to stop with with increased police force or harsher punishments. I think this performance is particularly interesting because it demonstrates that just because some rituals and traditions may be illegal, they are often so engrained into the identity of the community that it is difficult to stop the practice and nearly impossible to remove the memories from the community’s mind if it continues. I myself have participated in senior pranks, but this was still shocking to me. Additionally, I thought it was funny that other student knew the exact location of where this prank took place. Evidently, this prank was not just fitting to the identity of the high school community but to the identity of the town as well. In fact, the other student was not even from the town and was able to identity its attitude and myth. 


Sari Ceremonies

  1. The main piece: Sari Ceremony

“It is the first time they tie a sari for a little girl. It’s just the first time that a little girl gets a sari, and the family makes a big event out of it. Maybe it was, in the olden days, you know, very very olden days, people got married when they were 9 or 10. This was when the girl was 6 years of age, so maybe people were letting them know.

“And by the way, there’s an equivalent boy’s ceremony. A dhoti, or pancha ceremony. Boys’ cloths are called dhoti, or panchalu, and this is from the Andhra people south of India. So it’s the same thing for boys also.

“Usually, we do it in odd years. 5, 7, 11. But you know, all Indian things are like that. We always give odd numbers of money as gift. And then, you just invite near and dear. That’s it.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“You know, I went to some of my friends’ sari ceremonies growing up, but I never had one. So I thought, okay, when I have my own daughter, I’ll have a nice sari ceremony for her. So we visited India and we had one for her, and we had her grandparents and aunts and uncles there, and it felt, what is it in English? Complete.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The sari ceremonies in Andhra Pradesh, a state in South India, are examples of coming-of-age ceremonies. In the very old days, they would have indicated that a girl’s childhood was complete, and that she was now available to be married. While the marriage connotation has definitely faded, the sari ceremony is still a marker of transition from helpless child to young person capable of decision making and responsibility. Wearing a sari requires a number of complex steps, and the sari ceremony also announces the girl has reached a certain level of maturity. The informant mentioned that her daughter’s sari ceremony brought many members of her family together, showing that sari and dhoti ceremonies have also transitioned into large community events.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.


… Let’s see… So you get there and you eat dinner and it’s kind of like the first hour or so is just socializing with your family and friends… because you invite everyone you know, basically… and everyone brings a present or money… and then, after dinner’s done, they go through like a slideshow of pictures of you growing up and stuff… and then I think that’s when they do speeches—like your mom does a speech, your dad does a speech, sometimes an uncle, or grandparents…

I went to one where her dad was in jail, so he actually wrote a speech and then her brother gave it… they had pictures of him before he went to jail, and him and her together on the slideshow running during the time her brother was giving the speech written by her dad about how much he loved her and how sad he was to have missed her growing up even though he was a terrible dad… and everyone was bawling… It’s kind of the point for someone to cry at these things…

And then there’s dancing; and so you get a court––like a bride gets her bridesmaids, you get like four or five girls––and you also assign them guys to be partners, and of course you get a partner. So you perform like a ton of really choreographed, complicated and tough dances. You go through months of hard core practice for them… and everyone just kind of goes and sits down while you’re performing, and then there’s one you do with your dad—it doesn’t have to be intricately choreographed or anything, it’s your choice of style of dance… and I think you get one more non formal one, it’s kind of at your discretion how many dances you want.

At one of them, she was a ballerina, so she had her own recital for just herself, but the other two, they didn’t have that because they didn’t have a dance routine to perform solo. That part’s not a requirement or anything…

Then they bring out dessert after all of that, like the main thing is done after all that… and everyone is now free to dance—again it’s one of those big social things, you’re allowed to dance, it’s not just a dinner. They don’t open presents while you’re there. And that’s kind of the end… you just kind of socialize ‘til it’s over (they’re usually like four to six hour events, that just carry on…).

Oh! The most important part: her dress(es)… She wears this really big—usually a white dress because there’s usually a mass part before it, and you wear this big white, formal prom-like dress—and she wears this for the church. And in the reception, she wears whatever she wants. It’s still a formal dance, but it’s not as strict… and then there are dresses for the dances, which she gets to choose, too. That’s why they (the quinceañeras) get so expensive, because they (the family) pay for the dresses of everyone else in the procession… they pay for everything.


How did you come across this folklore: “I wanted to talk about them because they’re a cool coming of age type of ritual thing… and I’ve been to a couple, but I didn’t get one because I’m third generation, so we’re kind of removed. I’m also half white. I was just as likely to get a sweet sixteen as a quinceañera. I studied abroad for a month the summer I turned sixteen, so on my sixteenth birthday I was abroad. So instead of a fifteenth or sixteenth birthday party, I had a big going away party that wasn’t as formal as a quinceañera, but it had the same general idea of celebration around that time.”

Other information: “I can tell you about them—I’ve been to several, and even though I never had my own, they’re still really important, especially to some families. Usually parents who are actually from Mexico, those kids will have to have one… it’s only first generation because it gets really expensive.”

This is an example of a coming of age ceremony, ritualizing the transition from girl to woman in Mexican(-American) culture. Something that stood out in the particular details of the quinceañera were how much it resembles a wedding-like ceremony, reflecting the cultural emphasis on this time period in a girl’s life and the importance of marriage (which is another marker of being a woman, the transition to the role of wife and eventually mother).

Space Traveling Boy

I asked my informant if he could provide me with a piece of Folklore, and he suggested this story. According to the informant, his parents would tell it to him as a child, and he believes it is of Swiss origin, although he is not sure.

“It’s about this little boy, who lives in space, and he kinda has a really unique perspective on the world based on his naivete,  and, in space all the planets are governed by adults and on each planet this adult has like a certain characteristic or trait the boy goes about kind of negating or belying. Like, certain events that happen, like there’s this one where he shows the adult a picture of, like a hat but he asks him “what do you see in this picture?” and the adult says “oh it’s a hat it’s simple” and he goes no its not a hat it’s a elephant and a snake underneath a blanket, just because of the shape of the hat.”

Although this story seems to be missing parts, from what is available, we see that it is about a boy who gets in arguments with adults, and wins them since he does not posses the same hardened stereotypes. Seeing the boy use his imagination and think outside the box, this story may also serve as a reminder to adults not to become trapped in social dogma, and to preserve some of the innocence of childhood.

Quinceañera Festival

Informant Bio: Informant is a friend and fellow business major.  He is a junior at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business.  His family is from Mexico but he has lived in Southern California for nearly all of his life.


Context: I was talking to Fabian about Mexican stories and folklore.  He started mentioning how there are several important festivals/traditions one goes through in traditional Mexican culture, one of them being the quinceañera festival.  He then detailed his experiences going to close family and friends’ festivals throughout his life.


Item: “It’s a coming of age kind of thing for girls.  The way they work is there’s a royal core that is usually made of, uh, direct blood relatives (female and male) and also really close female and male friends.  There’s a chambelan which is the quinceañera’s escort which is either the boyfriend or girlfriend if they have one, or a close male relative or a really close male friend.  This is the quinceañera’s main escort for the night.  So, uh, it all starts off with a dance.  The dance varies, but the entire core people perform this choreographed dance that they do.  Once they are done, then the main guy and the quinceañera girl have a solo dance in the middle.  This is a little more elaborate and involves just those two.  It’s usually a waltz.  And then, um, the guy gives the girl to her dad and there’s a father-daughter dance.  And then, after that, like, there’s just kind of eating and kind of a regular party.  The main difference between celebrations comes from the type of dance that is performed at the beginning.”


Analysis: The quinceañera party helps celebrate a woman’s coming-of-age and sexual maturity.  The order of events in Fabian’s recounting parallels the path of the girl thus-far in her life.  In the beginning, all the close friends and family are involved in a special dance, showing how the girl has thus far been raised and been intimately connected with her close friends and family.  Then, the girl is given to the special chambelan who gets to dance with the girl, representing how the girl will move on from her childhood familial upbringing and find a suitable mate in society.  The subsequent father-daughter dance is an homage to the fact that the original man in her life for the past fifteen years has been her father.  This dance represents the fact that the father will continue to respect his daughter (but shifting from treating her as a little girl to treating her as a woman).  This celebration is a very important event in Mexican and Hispanic culture, and traditionally is maintained even for families that have moved to the United States.


In the Mexican tradition, the most important element of the quinceañera is a Thanksgiving mass that commences the celebration.  After this mass, the girl enters the banquet hall or wherever the celebration is being held.  Typically, the girl was not able to dance in public before the age of 15, so the dance with the chambelan is the girl’s first public dance.  Therefore, this event would be very important in the girl’s life and something that girls look forward to for months or even years prior.

This tradition has many parallels to the American tradition of a Sweet 16 party.  They both celebrate the coming of age of girls (marking the transition from child to woman).  Quinceañera’s, as written above, are elaborate celebrations held in banquet halls, and can be extremely formal and has a relatively set progression.  The sweet 16, a celebration of a young girl’s virginity, varies much more.  Although some folks make it a formal celebration, many times it is a more informal house party or get-together of close family friends and relatives.  At its core, the variations in sweet 16’s shows the diversity in American culture, while the relative rigidity of the quinceañera shows the more homogeneous Mexican culture (highly tied to Catholicism).

Pirate’s Cave

Here my informant recounts a tradition among the local youth he knew in Point Loma to visit a place they called the “Pirate Cave” he describes the historical basis for the tradition, and the reasons people are still drawn there.

“Alright, well I grew up in Point Loma San Diego, and there’s this thing called sunset cliffs, and it’s a bunch of like 40 or 60 foot cliffs, big and really pretty, and, um, in the 1920’s during prohibition, it was like a major smuggling destination for alcohol, and there’s a really cool cave that’s connected to where boats could land at the cliffs, and has like access at low tide only, and then it goes up to the top of the cliff like through and under and um its really cool cause like you can go in and explore and um people have like found bones in there, and there’s like notches in the wall where they used to put candles to light the passage ways, and what’s really sketchy is like, its been known about for a while by locals, and they [the smugglers] tried to catch them, so they have like pitfalls in the path like inside the cliffs  like, that were traps for police forces which were set up, um, yeah, pretty awesome. We just call it pirate’s cave because of people who pirated the alcohol brought it in that way and, now they stopped using it. And there’s like carved steps, yeah it’s really cool.”

The informant enumerates undeniable draws to explore this former bootlegging hideout. From rotting bones to booby traps, many of these rumors are so adventurous  they seem likely to be fabricated. However, regardless of their accuracy, there must be some foundation for rumors, and my informants’ description of “Pirate Cave” shows how tradition can develop from a desire for adventure.

Celebration – Mexican


This is the celebration of the daughter’s fifteenth birthday and is a rite of passage for a young Mexican girl as she enters womanhood. Some of the traditions during this ceremony include a dance with her father (which is the most important), goes to church for confirmacion (confirmation) which is a ceremony exclusively for family. The party afterward is for friends and other guests. Prior to the celebration the girl cannot wear high heels or make-up and cannot dance with a boy. However during the party, after she dances with her father, she has to dance with the boy she chose to be her date to her quinceanera.


The subject was eager to talk about this celebration as it is a huge part of Mexican culture. Quinceanera is the celebration of the daughter’s fifteenth birthday, which represents a transformation from a child to a woman. The subject talked to me for awhile about the ceremony and the different aspects of it. She said it was the first most important day of your life. She told me that most people say that a wedding day is the most important day in a girl’s life, but she said that this day is all about you as opposed to you and your husband to be. She went through the different occurrences during the day, stating that the first thing the girl and her family do is go to church and for confirmacion. This is a custom that allows the girl to assert her faith by her own free will as opposed to having her parents make the decision for her. This is a crucial step in becoming a woman.

After church the girl hosts a party where relatives and friends are allowed to come. The girl must wear a white gown to her party and flat bottom shoes. The celebration lasts for hours, with food and dancing as the main activities. The most important part of the party is the dance between the father and the girl, this marks the last dance she has with her father as her dad’s little girl. She is then presented with a pair of high heels which represent maturity and grace. Prior to her quinceneara the girl was not allowed to wear high heels, make-up or dance with boys. The next part of the celebration includes the dance with the date she brought to the party, this is significant because it is another sign of growing up, as the girl can now have relations with boys.  The subject said that the parties are always a lot of fun and bring the community together in celebration.

I think that this ceremony or rite of passage is amazing. It has so many traditions that have stood the test of time, with the father daughter dance, the presentation of the shoe, and the white gown. I think that there are many symbols throughout this celebration, for example I think that the white gown is meant to symbolize purity, and perhaps in the past this was a wedding celebration as well, and once the girl turned fifteen she was eligible to be married. I also think that the shoes and the lift of the prohibition of boys and make-up are symbols of adulthood and maturity. This ceremony reminds me of the cotillion or a debutante ball, in which girls of age 18 or so have an introduction to society party, where they also don white gowns and dance with their fathers. The balls are very similar in significance as well as both are coming of age ceremonies. The confirmation of faith at the church is much like Christian and Catholic Confirmation which occur in 10th and 11th grade respectively.

Folk Celebration – Los Angeles, California

Japanese Coming-of-age Practice

When a girl has her period for her first time, in Japanese culture, a big celebration is held.  There is a special dinner of red beans and rice served that everyone must take a bite of to take part in the celebration and honor the passing of the girl into the adult world as a woman.

The informant was very embarrassed about the tradition and how the family made a big deal about her “becoming a woman.”  She believes that everyone must eat the red rice and beans as a physical acknowledgement and celebration of the girl becoming a woman within her family and society as a whole.

I agree with my informant’s analysis.  Also, though it’s quite obvious, the coloring of the beans and rice with red dye is supposed to reflect the physical act of menstruating that begins with a girl’s first period.  The reason why I think this celebration is so important and celebrated as a passage into adulthood is because, with a girl’s first period, she is now physically able to bear children.

See Also:

Namihira, E.  “Culture and aging of the female: a case of Japanese society.”  The Menopause at the Millenium: Proceedings of the 9th World. Page 236.  Parthenon Publishing: Yokohama, 1999.