Your entire academic career has led up to this point. In only a month, a piece of paper will be plastered on a public wall, showing everyone how well, or how poorly, you did. Only days after that, the newspaper will publish all the results, just to make sure everyone knows your scores.

While these series of events may seem somewhat reminiscent of the ACT and SAT process to Americans, for those who live in France who must take the baccalaureate, this practice is extremely familiar. In fact, for many people the baccalaureate is not just an exam, but a rite of passage.

Learning about the significance of the baccalaureate led me to consider what events or thresholds might be considered rites of passage for most people in America. Being a high school senior, the first thought that came to mind was getting into college. But as it turns out, I was wrong. Only 69.9% of students nationwide in 2016 enrolled in colleges or universities. That number seemed impossible; everyone I knew seemed to go to college after high school. This idea I had of everyone going to college was brought on by the roughly 96% of Wilton students who choose to seek higher education after graduating high school. Everyone knows that Wilton is different from the rest of the country in a number of ways, but I was still surprised to see the staggeringly different college matriculation rates.

So if admittance into college, something I had felt so confident about, is not an American rite of passage, what is? Almost everyone has his or her first steps, first day of school, first missing tooth, but there do not seem to be very many moments, after becoming a teenager, that are generally seen as taking a step into adulthood, except maybe our 18th birthdays. Some people wait until their 20s or 30s to get their license, others never let a drop of alcohol into their body, fewer have never broken a bone, and plenty abstain.

It seems that the older we get, the more arbitrary the events we label as a rite of passage become. They begin to completely reflect our own values, which are derived from the unique way we are raised. One’s first steps are a thrust into life as a whole. Yet getting a higher education may only reflect the beliefs of our small community. And in this town where almost everyone is expected to go to college, only a minority of families wish to continue to graduate school. And in this family that sends their children to graduate school, perhaps only one of two children wish to get married.

As I see it, with age comes opportunity, and a rite of passage is merely one or two moments we choose to give significance out of the thousands of possible moments that could be equally as important. So that begs the question, why do we have rites of passage at all past childhood? If fewer and fewer people recognize the progressing steps of our lives as achievement, what causes us to see them differently?

Of course, there is no definitive answer to these questions, but perhaps creating one’s own rites of passage allows him to measure and celebrate his own progress through life when fewer people will. Years ago I had friends and family to celebrate my first steps, and today I am fortunate enough to have a warm community that celebrates my acceptance into college. Yet five years from now, when I don’t have the constant assurances of parents who I live with, or the same Wilton community supporting me, I will still be achieving my rites of passage so I can tell myself that I am on the right path.


Tor Aronson is a senior at Wilton High School. He shares this column with five classmates.