K. Bird – Week 3 – Description of a Ritual

A ritual that almost any American would know, and if you are in this class have likely been through, is receiving a driver’s license. This ritual extends to outside the U.S. but we are one of the few countries where it happens before you are an adult, at about the age of 16. This makes the ritual different for us. To us, it is the first sign of becoming more of an adult and less like a kid; where freedom begins. The first step of the ritual is driver’s education, when you get to brag to all of your friends who are months older. The real ritual, however, happens after you turn 16 (in Michigan, at least). It begins with the nerves as you pull into the testing grounds and you meet the examiner. Personal information is exchanged and then you are let loose through the obstacle grounds. If you pass his or hers first test, you make your way on to the roads to prove you have what it takes to drive among the adults. Sometimes a person may fail the ritual; sometimes multiple times. When you succeed, however, a piece of plastic that comes in the mail is your trophy and you have earned the right to drive.


Receiving a driver’s license is the most exciting thing for teenagers until they graduate high school. After the ritual, they gain a whole new sense of freedom, unburdened by their parents that will last them for their entire life. No longer do they need to ask for a parent to escort them. For people who have grown up in America, this seems like a normal part of life that everyone goes through. Once the ritual is over no one thinks about it until maybe you meet the odd person who still does not have their driver’s license at the age of 21 and has to use a passport to order drinks. For the most part, it is assumed that everyone over the age of 16 has a driver’s license, but rarely do people think about the ritual they took to get it. But this ritual is very unique to Americans. A friend who was born and raised in Hong Kong came to America for her last two years of high school, past the age where most have already done their driver’s training and gotten a license. In Hong Kong, however, the driving age is 18. So here she is, 17 years old and without a license, never having gone through the ritual and passing the age where it is easy to do so. Even worse, because the ritual favors American families with parents who can teach the kids, she is at a disadvantage being an exchange student. In Hong Kong and many other parts of the world, by the time a person can receive their driver’s license, they are already an adult and have as much freedom as they want. To her, a driver’s license only has such a special meaning in America.


People refer to the process of getting a driver’s license as a teenager’s “rite of passage” and rightfully so. More specifically, I would classify the ritual as stressing responsibility, where those who pass have their status changed and are given the new responsibility of driving, and everything it entails. Instead of just teenagers, they are now drivers and must take a part in keeping the roads safe as everyone else does.

One thought on “K. Bird – Week 3 – Description of a Ritual

  1. A drivers license is definitely a ritual of privilege. Preceding months are filled with much anxiety from not only the student driver, but also their guardians who are teaching them to drive. A license becomes a transitional ritual almost. Once you’re 16 and pass your drivers test you’re a licensed driver (with some restrictions of course). However, with that does come a lot more responsibility if one chooses to accept it. You’ll need a car, so if you do not have the privilege of class and the ability to afford a car (or have your parents buy one like mine did) then you’re kinda out of luck in our society here. You need transportation to get a job to earn money to purchase a car, (but now you’re also contributing to society and paying some tax dollars now, whooo!) Of course a car needs gas, so now you got a regular part -time job as well, and before you know it you’re launching yourself into adulthood. So I guess my question is if, consciously 16 year old participants consider these things, or more or less are just worried with the actual license themselves? I wonder in what way the age affects and determines outcomes of transitioning into adulthood?

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