Coming of Age


 Photo by Sara Yung

Various cultures have celebrations for the transition from childhood to adulthood, often overlapping with the person’s time in high school and featuring unique cultural traditions. Among these are the quinceañera, the Philippine Debut and the Sweet 16. Sophomore Natalia Trevino Amaro’s quinceañera included a church service performed by her priest. Senior Frances Sormillon’s Philippine Debut will involve 18 candles and 18 roses. Sophomore Sophie Miller’s Sweet 16 was a celebration for both her and her friend. While customs vary in the way one dresses or the food one eats, the meaning from one culture to the other is nearly identical. The proverbial change from flats to high heels is a significant milestone; it is a symbolic rite of passage.


Photo by Sara Yung

When You’re 15

Stepping into the venue with a dark green dress with gold detailing on the bodice and a tiara to top it all off, sophomore Natalia Trevino Amaro was ready for the party to begin. When she entered the venue in September of 2014, Natalia saw everything she and her parents had planned, from the dance floor to the food.

She said, “We had a bunch of tables when you walk in, and then in the far back was the buffet area. And then we had a dance floor at the very front, which is where we, like, set up for the band and then (we) ended up moving that …. There was this little separate room for the photo booth.”

For Natalia, who has both Mexican and Spanish heritage, a quinceañera had long been something she wanted to have.

“Ever since I was little I wanted to have one …. I started planning it in January (2014)—like, actually getting a place set up and all those little things getting ready,” Natalia said.

Her reasons for wanting a quinceañera, she said, were based on the typical girl movie involving a Sweet 16 party.

From January to September, Natalia and her parents worked out the specifics for her quinceañera, particularly with food.

“For desserts and stuff my mom made everything,” Natalia said. “We just figured it out with the place, and they helped us out.”

As the first person in her family to have ever had a quinceañera, Natalia customized hers to how she wanted it, forgoing the typical party in favor of a simpler one.

“I didn’t have a traditional one just because it’s a whole lot of money and a lot of work for that because … it’s almost like weddings where you have bridesmaids and best men,” she said. “I wasn’t going to do that because also it’s a Hispanic thing, and people around here don’t understand that. So I basically had this really big party, and then I did the whole church ceremony part of it.”

Natalia’s mother Ana Amaro said, “It wasn’t a traditional quinceañera. It was more like a big, big, big party. But it was really worth (it). I think we had a lot of fun.”

According to Natalia, a traditional quinceañera involves damas, the Spanish word for ladies, and chambelánes, the Spanish word for dance partners or escorts. The seven damas and seven chambelánes make up the court of people who serve as the escorts for the birthday girl and who represent the 14 years leading up to her 15th birthday.

In addition, there is usually a dance accompanying the festivities. Natalia said, “You usually have this big dance that they all do. Like, they choreograph it and everything. It’s a lot. But I didn’t do that. I just wanted to have a big party celebrating having all my friends here.”

However, Natalia said she did follow some traditions, such as having a church ceremony dedicated to her transition to adulthood.

“Usually, you have the church ceremony part of it because it usually has to do with Catholics. So, I did that, but I had it done at my house instead of at church. So, I had the priest come here and do a small service instead of going there. I did that part traditionally, and they talk about becoming a woman and all that stuff,” she said.

For Mrs. Amaro, it was a significant day, after dedicating months to planning the event and two days to making the desserts.

“As a mom, you feel very proud to see your daughter become a woman. I mean, you’re a little bit sad that your baby is not your baby anymore, but I was very happy,” Mrs. Amaro said.

To Natalia, although she said it didn’t feel any different being an adult versus being a child, she said she still realizes the importance of that celebration, as even both sides of her family from Spain and Mexico attended.

“I definitely valued it just because it was a cool time with everybody, and my parents invested in it,” Natalia said. “It was just, like, you can see that all these people care about you.”



 Photo by Sara Yung

Making A Debut

For senior Frances Sormillon, April 23, the day after her 18th birthday, will be marked by her transition into adulthood through a Philippine Debut. So far, she and her family have gone through several details concerning the debut party.

Frances said, “We had to go through who we want to invite, the dress, the venue, giveaways—everything.”

According to Frances, the Philippine Debut is a large birthday celebration for a debutante—the birthday girl—that involves elements such as “Eighteen candles which are 18 girls you invite, and 18 roses which are 18 boys you invite.”

The 18 candles and 18 rose stems from a Filipino tradition. In addition, the debut party traditionally includes a cotillion in which the 18 candles, the 18 roses and guests dance.

“I think that traditional debuts have a cotillion, which is also what I’m going to have for my debut. There (are) also performances if you (want), and then the candles have speeches and the roses dance with the debutante,” she said.

Her parents, John and Marlyn Sormillon, said they are willing to prepare and set up this event.

Mr. Sormillon said, “I know a lot of people will try to skip that because of the overwhelming work that you do, but we didn’t want to miss that for her. That’s another way for us to show her as our daughter we wanted to do this.”

Mr. Sormillon said he is looking forward to Frances’s debut. He said, “We wanted to celebrate among our family and friends for sure. And I know among those (things at) this party we are going to do a little bit of intermission as well. So we’re going to have fun, lots of fun.”

At her debut party, Frances said she plans to have several events throughout the evening.

She said, “I’m going to be singing, and then my family’s going to be doing this special dance.”

The dance will be choreographed and is simply for entertainment purposes, according to Frances.

Mrs. Sormillon said, “One of the highlights on the program is there’s a father and daughter dance, just like in a wedding.”

According to Mr. Sormillon, Frances will dance with the 18 roses, and then “it culminates with me dancing with her.”

Another important aspect of the party will be the cake.

Mrs. Sormillon said, “The cake. It’s one of the highlights in the debut. We ordered a classic cake—a nice, huge cake.”

As for her outfit, Frances said, “I’m going to be having this really big, pink dress, and we got it made in the Philippines. It’s very glittery.”

Mrs. Sormillon said, “One of my cousin’s friends was a designer, and they designed this for (Frances)…For the color, (Frances) picked the light pink, and she just wanted it simple. (It’s a) simple design with this glitter (detailing), but the back of this is kind of huge.”

A crown will also be part of her outfit, as well as a pink, satin, drawstring bag that matches the dress.

As her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Sormillon both said they see significance in Frances having a debut, particularly since she is their only daughter.

Mr. Sormillon said, “For me…it’s like a celebration of her (transition to) being a young adult … and all the years that (she) went through… (We will) join in the customary Filipino celebration of doing a debut for our daughter, as a way of being grateful for everything over 18 years that have transpired, and now she’s ready to face this brave new world.”

Frances said one of the biggest reasons why she ended up choosing to have a debut party was due to its cultural significance in the Philippines.

“It’s a pretty big event, so some people don’t like going through all the effort to do that. But I just felt like it was a part of my culture that I wanted to be a part of,” Frances said. “I think it’s a way to show to everyone how far you’ve come, and, like, how much you’ve transformed over the years into your 18-year-old self.”


Photo by Swetha Nakshatri

A Sweet Duo

Ever since they were in preschool, sophomores Sophie Miller and Anja Reese have been best friends. On Nov. 7, they both celebrated their birthdays early by having a joint Sweet 16 party at a venue at Prairie View Golf Club.

Miller said, “We wanted to do a joint (party) since we’ve been best friends for a long time. We talked about it, and we just thought that since we have a lot of similar friend groups, we wanted to do a joint party because we both wanted to have one anyways.”

Miller and Reese planned their party earlier than both of their birthdays as Miller’s is on Nov. 11 and Reese’s is on Nov. 30. They did this to accommodate their busy schedule for Accents, allowing many of their friends from their choir to attend the party.

According to Miller, the two of them started planning in September, when they made a list of activities they were going to do at the party, what type of food they would have and who would attend it. Along with family, they invited people from their own choir, from other choirs and from their church.


With the help of requests from these invitees, they created a music playlist that everyone would like. At the party, they had a photo booth, a food bar, music, games and a disc jockey; the basement was used for a dance floor.

“I think it was just fun because she’s such a good friend of mine that there were no issues of who to invite. I think it just worked out well because we know each other so well, and we have the same interests. So, we got to base the (party) off of those interests and our friendship,” Miller said.

Miller said boys probably do not have parties similar to a Sweet 16 because girls are more social and a bit dramatic while guys are more relaxed. For Miller, having the Sweet 16 also symbolized, as many coming-of-age parties do, that she was starting to become an adult.

Miller said, “I’ve matured over the years. In high school, just becoming more responsible, getting ready for college and all of (that) fun stuff. Just maturing and going through life decisions throughout high school has helped me mature more and grow more as a person. Sixteen is kind of like a year between being a teenager and going into college.”

The Sweet 16 is a tradition in the United States and Canada to act as a celebration of a girl becoming an adult. Miller said 16 is usually a milestone because it is the time when someone gets his or her license, starts to feel more mature and transitions to being an adult while focusing on going from high school to college.

“I feel like Americans like to party in general. A Sweet 16 is a big year, and many are waiting for that moment to happen. Americans have a culture that they want to be with others and have a party celebrating their achievements,” Miller said. “It’s just a fun party for both genders to come together to celebrate people’s birthdays instead of when we were all younger it was just girls and just guys. I feel like it’s a traditional American party because it’s just relaxing, having fun and having a ball with your friends.”


Share this Post

About the Author

Ellen Peng

About the Author

Sitha Vallabhaneni