Katie Frey celebrated her 21st birthday for four days.  Sounds like the perfect formula for an epic hangover, right?  However, the MSU student decided to only drink during one of those days.  The rest of the time she chose to spend with family and friends, completely sober.

“I’m really glad I chose the way I did.  I got to celebrate with all the people that I wanted to and in a way that I could remember everything,” Frey said.

Frey spent the evening of her birthday having dinner with her family.  She had one glass of wine at dinner and went for a couple of drinks with her best friend later that night.  After that she spent the next two days without alcohol having game nights with friends in East Lansing and her hometown.

“I really wanted to spend quality time with all my friends, and most of my friends are under 21,” Frey said.

Finally, on the fourth day of celebrations, Frey had a picnic with her extended family and also her boyfriend’s family.  Again, she didn’t drink, deciding that she had plenty of time to go out to the bars later.

“I really believe that life can be just as rich and wonderful and fun and adventurous and crazy without alcohol,” Frey said.  “Drinking can be fun, but if you let it consume your life, you miss out.”

Andrew Rutherford, who turned 21 during finals week in December, cited safety as an important element to remember.  Rutherford said that his mother, who works at Sparrow Hospital, sees people being brought in to have their stomach pumped all the time.

“I think a lot of people just think that people go out with their friends, and they’ll go to the furthest extreme they can get,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford decided to take a break from finals and celebrate his birthday with friends at a local restaurant.  He had a few drinks throughout the night and paced himself.

Rutherford said that he had too much going for him to mess it up by getting into a risky situation.

“I think people on their 21st birthday, it’s like they made it and they just don’t care for a night, and that can be really dangerous,” he said.

While some individual students are shying away from the stereotype of overindulging on their 21st birthday, managers of East Lansing bars are also encouraging celebrating carefully.

Paul Stewart, manager of Crunchy’s, said that he wants customers to enjoy themselves while celebrating responsibly.

“Being able to go to the bars is part of college life, but it shouldn’t have ill-effects against your college life,” Stewart said.

In order to achieve safety for customers, Crunchy’s and many other East Lansing bars are members of the Responsible Hospitality Council (RHC).

According to the RHC webpage, “The purpose of the RHC is to adopt practices that promote responsible advertising, safe on-site management, community stewardship, compliance with state and local liquor laws and responsible alcohol consumption by our patrons.”

Stewart, who is an executive board member of the RHC, explained that the RHC has specific rules for patrons celebrating their 21st birthday.  According to a Best Practices document, a few of the rules include:  the celebrant and designated driver are identified, the table may only have one server, no one is allowed to order directly from the bar and service will be refused to the table if it needs to be stopped to any member of the table.

According to the website, there are currently 17 establishments that are members of the RHC.

Francisco Delatorre, manager of Harper’s Restaurant & Brew Pub, said that Harper’s tries to avoid hosting 21st birthday parties.  He also said that patrons are not allowed to become very intoxicated because his employees are trained to recognize the signs of too much to drink.  He advised that students not drink too much on their 21st birthday and to definitely not drive after drinking.  According to the RHC webpage, Harper’s is a member of the RHC.

Chelsea Grantham is another MSU student that chose to not drink too much on her 21st birthday.  Grantham said that she drank less on her 21st birthday than she had on previous birthdays because she wanted to have fun and remember it, too.  Grantham also said that she didn’t want to adhere to the stereotype of getting too drunk.

Grantham said that students might feel pressured to drink more on their 21st birthday because strangers will buy them drinks, and people are encouraged to do “more shots than average.”

It is possible to not have to be carried home after turning 21.  Some MSU students are not always overindulging, and bars are encouraging that.  Either way, students should be careful while celebrating.  After all, being able to remember the experience and the stories that go with it is half the fun.

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