Established 1826 — Oldest College Newspaper West of the Alleghenies

The ambiguity of adulthood: Trying to define what it means to be grown up

The following piece, written by the editorial editors, reflects the majority opinion of the editorial board.

Think back to when you were younger, maybe 10 years old. Think of the people in your life that you considered adults. These people might have been teachers, older siblings, a 16-year-old camp counselor or even the middle schooler down the street that babysat you.

To our 10-year-old selves, college seemed like lifetimes away. And yet, here we are at the start of second semester, months away from graduation day, when many of us will be catapulted out into the "real world."

And we are still questioning: "Am I an adult yet?"

On an editorial board composed of mostly seniors, you would think someone might feel confident calling him or herself an adult. However, as we discussed what it means to be an adult, the majority of us admitted we don't quite feel like we're there yet.

This leaves us wondering, at what point will we identify ourselves as adults?

Is it based on age? Life experience? Or is adulthood simply a matter of how old you feel?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition is equally vague, defining an adult as one who is "fully developed and mature: grown up."

College students especially are at an interesting crossroads - we want all of the privileges of adult life and none of the responsibility.

We want to be independent from our parents in terms of making decisions for ourselves, but we don't want to be cut off financially.

We feel weird if a younger child refers to us as a "grown up," but we are equally uncomfortable when someone we consider an adult addresses us as a peer.

Age can be relative - compared to first-years, seniors might feel very old. But once we get jobs and find ourselves the lowest on the totem pole, we might feel inferior to those who have been around longer.

In life, we are always expecting that the next milestone - from graduating high school and going to college, moving out of a dorm into an apartment and finally getting a job and starting a family - will be the one that magically makes us feel "adult."

Maybe being an adult isn't about completing a checklist of events, rather, it's the sum of many experiences.

Maybe it's the surprise when you notice your parents speak to you about more mature topics or ask for your advice.

Maybe being an adult means paying bills or buying your own groceries.

Maybe it's realizing that when you talk about "home," you no longer mean your parents' house.

Assigning a perfect, universal definition to the word "adult" is nearly impossible, because everyone progresses through life on his or her own trajectory. Each individual has a unique life course, full of different events that shape and influence him or her.

For example, imagine three high-school seniors, all the same age, all graduating.

One attends college where he will learn to live independently, manage his time and ultimately increase his earning potential for later in life. The second student joins the military, where he will undergo intensive training and help defend our country. The third gets pregnant and has a child, opting to continue living with her parents to save money, while also becoming responsible and caring for another human being.

Who among them is most adult? Are any of them?

Maybe we grow up when we have to - when something like the death of a parent shakes us and forces us to become more responsible.

Maybe it doesn't have to be a tragedy. Some of us grow up when we realize, "Hey, I should learn to do my own laundry. I should call a plumber to fix my sink," or when we take accountability for any number of problems in our lives and make an effort to fix them.

There is no clear answer. Maybe becoming an adult isn't something you notice as it's happening, but rather it's a feeling you get when you look back and realize how much has changed.

Maybe adulthood isn't a final destination.

After all, we continue to develop and grow throughout our lives, so maybe adulthood is more about the process than an end.