Students at Cienega High School and graduate students at the University
of Arizona read Stargirl. Stargirl is a story about many
things. It's about entering a community for the first time. It's also
about a first kiss, first love--and other firsts we won't tell you about
because we don't want to give away the book! These important firsts
can be considered "rites of passage," a phrase that comes
from the field of anthropology.
Traditionally speaking, a rite of passage is a ceremony that marks
and creates an important change in a person's lifethe change from
child to adult, from an umarried person to a married person, etc. Many
traditional rites of passage are practiced in the United States, such
as bar and bat mitzvahs, quinceañeras, graduation ceremonies,
birthday parties, weddings, and funerals. But we also use the phrase
"rite of passage" to describe important transitions in life
that do not come with official ceremonies, such as your first kiss or
when you get your driver's license. These transitions may not have rituals
associated with them, but they nevertheless are moments that change
us in important ways.
Reading Stargirl, a book about rites of passage, inspired us
to think about rites of passage in our own lives.
QUESTION: What do you feel like has been your
most significant rite of passage so far? Why?
ANSWERS from high school students: Josh
felt like his most important rite of passage so far was his first kiss.
Miguel believed that when he stopped getting arrested was his most important
because it made his mom happy. Jalicia felt like graduating from 8th
grade has been the most important so far because she is one step closing
to graduating from high school. Ethan felt like going to high school
has been his because he thought it was going to be hard. Joe thought
reading his first book by himself has been his most important rite of
passage because he is now a reader. Jane remembered the first time she
rode her horse Strawberry; it was important because Strawberry was a
wild mustang, and Jane was able to calm her down enough to be able to
ride her. Ally thinks that her first childhood relationship was her
ANSWERS from U of A students: Melissa
and Lisa both said that graduating in three weeks with their master's
degrees would be their most significant rite of passage. Cybele said
hers was graduating from high school. Marianne wrote, "My first
car, nicknamed Dwayne after Dwayne Wayne of A Different World, was a
1971 Datsun pickup. It was a sky-blue hooptie with a hole in the floorboard
and a manual choke. Every morning, I crossed my fingers and prayed it
would start (and stop) when I needed it to. The first time Dwayne broke
down, I left the keys and a note for my dad on the kitchen table: 'Dear
Dad, truck's busted--please fix.' When I got home that afternoon, my
dad used a corner of that same paper to scrawl a note that read,'Come
and get me when you're ready to work on your car.' Initially, I was
shocked and a bit hurt that my dad wasn't willing to 'take care of me'
like he used to with my broken skates or busted bicycle chains. But
as time rolled on, I realized he was helping me make a significant transition
into the adult world or responsibility and self-reliance. My dad has
been a helpful guide for my journey through life's different stages."
QUESTION: What future rite of passage are you
most looking forward to? Why?
ANSWERS from high school students: Ally
wanted to become a singer and saw that as the thing that she is most
looking forward to. Justin was longing for his first "hot chick."
Jane couldn't wait to discover her career. Daniel couldn't wait to enter
the work force and to enter "real life." Joe looked forward
to becoming an author! Ethan longed for his first nice car. Jalicia
wanted her first car! Miguel couldn't wait to enter adulthood and get
married. Chase wanted to turn 18 so that he can attend "adult"
establishments. Josh couldn't wait for his band to get signed!
ANSWERS from U of A students: Melissa
was looking forward to relocating to a new city, starting her career,
and beginning a new life. Cybele was looking forward to publishing her
first book. Amy and Lisa were looking forward to her first full-time,
permanent jobs. Melissa, Cybele, Lisa also are all looking forward to
getting married. Marianne was looking forward to moving with her husband
into their first home. Anne is looking forward to the crone stage of
U of A students then posed these additional questions to the high school
QUESTION: Why are rites of passages so important?
ANSWERS: Jane felt like rites of passage
are important because they gives you something to accomplish. Miguel
thought that rites of passage are important because they show that you
did something or accomplished something. Trevor stated that they are
important because they help you transform from a little boy into a big
boy. Kimmy thought they are important because they help you learn different
things. The class said that it also gives you the opportunity to become
part of a group.
QUESTION: When you've finished a rite of passage,
do you feel that you have accomplished something big in your life?
ANSWERS: Jane said that it does't necessarily
have to be something big. But Trevor felt like every rite of passage
is big in its own way because it is a big thing for your age or level
of development. Everything is big in a way. To one person or another
it is a big deal.
QUESTION: Do you think it's more important to
be an individual and risk being an outcast, or is it better to hide
certain aspects of your personality and thoughts in order to fit in?
ANSWERS: Josh said that it is better to
be an individual even if you are an outcast because you are being yourself.
Josh said the group of outcasts can become friends or their own group.
Kaley said to be yourself because you might get better things being
yourself because you are not happy if you are pretending to be someone
you are not. Jane said that it depends on what you want, on what friends
you want, because sometimes you have to hide certain things in order
to fit in with the friends you want to fit in with; if you want to make
other people happy you may have to change certain things. Trevor said
that it depends on who you are with because sometimes you have to pretend
to be who you are not in order to protect yourself. Jalicia said if
you are pretending to be someone who you are not you are just cheating
yourself because you are not being true to yourself. The class seemed
to agree that true friends will be your friend if you are who you are
and will be your friend forever. Jane admitted that we all have thought
about wanting to be someone else but the class agreed that we can all
unconsciously change ourselves when we are around different people.
Sometimes the people we are around change us.
Many of the students indicated that it was more important to be true
to oneself than to misrepresent oneself to be part of a certain group
at school. However, there were a few who admitted they would consider
changing themselves or hiding certain parts of themselves to become
friends with certain people. While this is not the ideal situation,
it is human to want to belong or to want to change for someone you love
the way Stargirl conformed to Leo's wishes for a time. Ultimately, it
doesn't work and unfortunately, it is a negative rite of passage many
of people fall prey to until they realize their own inherent self-worth.
Conformity did not work for Stargirl. Hopefully her life will be an
example from which readers can learn.
Letter to Listening Library