Cheers to 21, Cheers to safe drinking

Current adventure: Case

If you’re reading this, then I’m 21! Last night (Thursday the 19th) saw the celebration of the marked occasion. As of press time, I’m probably lying in bed choosing to skip my classes for the day, desperately dehydrated, and trying to recap the events of the night before. I recall hitting the 14 shot mark (two-thirds of the way there, so close yet so far), and the hospital band around my wrist would explain the vague visions of University Hospitals. Hmm, I better text some friends to remember how much fun the night was before it took a turn for the worse.

Except, that didn’t happen. Not at all. With a test today, I choose to celebrate my legality buying a couple six packs (something from Miller, shout out to Wisconsin, and something with awesome packaging) and having a laugh with friends over a few brewskis.

Once I’ve taken my test with a crisp state of mind and fulfilled the week’s responsibilities, I will have a more appropriate birthday celebration. The plan is to cruise the Healthline and check out nightlife in downtown 216. Maybe I will finally try a chocolate martini at the Chocolate Bar, go dancing or be a straight shooter and play some billiards.

Regardless of the evening’s main activity, I most certainly will order a drink or two. Instead of filling up a red cup from a Gatorade container or drinking from a water bottle filled with “water, I swear,” I will order from a bartender. This bartender will have undergone some form of training, and if I personally do not see the mixologist in action, I plan to only step foot into trustworthy establishments whose business would severely suffer if god forbid a customer had a drink laced with a little something extra.

While I was in South Africa, friends would always ask me why Americans arrive to parties, bars and clubs wasted. My go-to explanation: Since most American university students are unable to legally drink, it is commonplace for students to heavily drink before they depart for the night. They very well may have to ride out the coattails of their pregame.

To a large degree, I can understand why the drinking age is 21: Alcohol can be dangerous, and safety should always be a concern. Besides the arbitrary age of 21 (the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid 20’s), the national drinking age has created a culture of underage binge drinking. Legally or illegally, most of our demographic will drink and binge at that.

Underage drinking is far from safe. It leads to compensation, unwieldy exploration, grimaces after drinking from water bottles that easily lead to memory loss and sketchy jungle juice that is equal parts toxic and so sugary my teeth hurt just thinking of it. (I don’t think the Kool-Aid man ever wanted to be associated with sloppy drunk college kids.)

In the words of Forrest Gump, underage drinking is like a box of chocolates: You never know how much you will consume. But chances are you won’t stop at one and will forge ahead until your stomach hurts, you’re regretting ever looking at chocolate and you’ve got a table full of empty wrappers.

If my Forrest Gump analogy doesn’t convince you, take at look at last week’s police blotter: Three of the nine “crimes” on campus were described as underage drinking, with the majority ending in hospital transport. Hopefully, these students have learned a bit about moderation, but I can’t help but think that a bartender at an established locale would have refused to serve the customer before the situation became dire.

College and drinking are like peanut butter and jelly. It’s going to happen, so rather than lobby for dry campuses, let’s flip the conversation on it’s head and encourage responsible, thoughtful, yet still fun drinking habits. Maybe that discussion involves changing the national drinking age. Maybe not. But how many more pumped stomachs (and other underage binge drinking maladies) have to occur before the conversation transitions from abstinence to responsibility?

Heather O’Keeffe is a junior studying biomedical engineering and minoring in sports medicine. She spent last Saturday night doing homework. Turn down for homework. #MatlabWasMyValentine #CaseKid #TheGrind #WhenIsGraduation?