How does a boy become a man? When does a girl become a woman? For eons, the human race has created ceremonies to mark the first awkward steps out of the dimension of childhood into the world of adulthood. These initiation ceremonies may have been tribal in origin, but if they changed in style, they haven’t changed in substance—after all, no human is more tribal than the American teenager. To straighten the adolescent slouch, if only for a minute, a culture endows an occasion with enough formality and high moment that its young are forced to look at themselves in a new way. The culture is saying to them, "Here are your new freedoms and we celebrate them with you." But, with them come a different way of acting and a higher expectation: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things." Since the times when these rituals were conducted under the stars, they have been regarded as moments of spiritual awakening and imbued with sacredness. In Dallas every year, a new generation stands before the congregation and reads from the Torah in an ancient tongue, or takes a deep plunging bow before an assembly of possible but unlikely suitors, or walks down an aisle in a solemn procession to a robed and waiting priest to receive his blessing. After it is done, nothing will change outwardly. The slouch will return, the radio will still blare, and at a thousand parental suggestions, two thousand pairs of eyes will roll. But inwardly something will stir, and inside where no one else can go, a deep interior space will begin to open up and beckon to be explored.-WICK ALLISON
"It’s been hard on my mom since my dad died, but my grandparents and family have helped with the preparations. Having a bar mitzvah is when you become a man or woman in the Jewish eyes. We have more responsibilties and we get to do more stuff on our own, like stay up later. I believe everyone has one important day in his life. Today is mine.
—JOSHUA MANTEL, 13, DALLAS
"There are all kinds of cotillions. The programs for young children teach them social skills. The fifth and sixth grade seems to be the best time to start. They come in like scarecrows, stiff as could be. But after a while, they warm up to it and have a great time. The kids learn etiquette, such as serving the girls punch when it’s refreshment time and shaking hands when they meet. They learn five basic dances. It’s all about social graces."
—KAY MURPHY, PARTY COORDINATOR, FORT WORTH
"Most people associate baptism with part of a church service, but it’s really a party, man. It’s a celebration of someone embarking on a completely new life. A baptism doesn’t make someone a Christian; it’s simply an expression. A love of God makes someone a Christian. Religion is two-dimensional and boring and has rules and regulations. Christianity is a vibrant, living relationship with God. My role is not to minister to the youth; it’s to equip them with tools. It’s the difference between giving someone a fish to eat and teaching someone how to fish."
—DAVID KEASLER, 22, YOUTH PASTOR, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, EDDY, TEXAS
"My parents talked about me getting confirmed my whole life. To be a Catholic, you need to be confirmed. I always knew I would do it because my parents wanted me to—not because I wanted to. But that morning, when I listened to the priest, he made more sense out of it. Afterward I felt like it was something I really needed to do. I had problems before and would doubt God. Like, if I failed a test or something, I would think, ’Oh, man. I’m so dumb.’ But now I know things happen for a reason. God’s watching out for me."
—ELIANA LOERA, 15, DALLAS
"The deb ball in my hometown of Palm Beach was ca A debutante ball shows society that you’re a woman, and it lets parents show off their daughter. The ball is in February, but the parties and dates begin in June. I went to about two parties a month. I had to fly in from Florida, but it was so much fun. I was so happy when I was finally introduced. I wish I could do it again."
—SIOBHAN NICOLE McNAMARA, 19, PALM BEACH
"I wasn’t really nervous. I was more excited than anything. My mom had to work, so my sisters took me to get my hair done. I think they thought it was cool that I got to have a Quince, because they didn’t have one. I was proud of myself because it means—if you’re a girl—you’re giving your life to God when you turn 15. And all of those people came to see me do it. We had the reception at Double D Ranch. I had been practicing a dance that my friends and I do. I had been practicing to do it that night. I messed it up in front of everybody."
—MEGAN ZUNIGA, 15, MESQUITE
"My prom was so much fun because I went with my best friend Aaron. A big group of my church friends all went to the park and had our pictures taken, and then we got in the limo and had dinner at Old Warsaw. The actual prom was so great. You’re there with all of your friends—the people that you’ve gone to school with for so long. Afterward we went bowling. I had on my dress and bowling shoes. We ended up all spending the night at my friend Jeff’s house. His parents waited up for us. The next morning we all went to church together in our pajamas."
—ABBI NISSEN, 17, BERKNER HIGH SCHOOL
High School Graduation
"Generally it’s a day of excitement and nervousness, and the kids are anxious and a bit melancholy. They realize that it’s the last moment of being a part of high school. There’s lots of mixed emotions, and it’s a nostalgic time. It hits them—when they see the caps and gowns—that those daily friendships they’ve had for so many years are coming to an end. But it’s a joyous occasion to see that they’ve made it and are ready to tackle to world."
—VICKIE RICHIE, 1997-2002 PRINCIPAL, HILLCREST HIGH SCHOOL