A Fifteen-Minute Birthday Party

It’s the worst feeling. You know it’s coming, but you’re powerless to stop it. It hits you, BAM, and leaves you feeling terrible for a long time after. I felt it when one of my friends, Alan, approached me in the Forum during conference milk and cookies.

“It’s my birthday today!” he said excitedly. “But you knew that, right?”

Here, I was ready to sink into the floor and never come out of it. I didn’t know whether to lie and play along or tell the truth and apologize profusely. Even though I’d forgotten birthdays a few times before (once even with my own dad…not my finest moment), every situation is somehow different.

“Yeah!” I said awkwardly. “Happy Birthday, Alan!” I laughed nervously, weirdly patted him on the back, and kind of just ran away.

Let’s pause here. As I said before, this situation was quite different from say, forgetting the birthday of the man who literally created and raised me. I am not a terrible person. In fact, basically no one knew it was Alan’s birthday. Usually, birthdays are announced at Roll Call, but we hadn’t had Roll Call in three days due to Surprise Holiday, Wednesday, and Thursday advisory meetings. Alan is also a new student to our form, so even though he’d become a good friend of ours, his birthday hadn’t come around yet.

This was a problem that we needed to fix. After a day of feeling like terrible people, the group of the nine or ten of us convened in the best way we knew how: a group chat on text. We all agreed that we needed to do something extra special to make up for our collective ignorance. One of my friends, Ben, was the first one to bring up the idea of a surprise party. Everyone immediately liked this idea. The problem was that the only time where we could all get together, since it was also Parents Weekend, was during the Fifteen, which is a fifteen-minute period between study hall and check-in where you can basically do anything around campus. Including throwing a surprise party. Fifteen minutes is better than none, so we decided to make it work.

We only had a few hours. We had to get to work. I set out with my parents to find a cake, cupcakes, and a huge bottle of Canada Dry. Another one of my friends got balloons (some of which may have been “borrowed” from the Parents Weekend festivities, but I digress). Others set up my room for the party, while some also formulated a plan to get Alan over to my room (they agreed on telling Alan that they were raiding my room for food). By study hall, in the space of less than two hours, we were ready. Ten minutes before the Fifteen, our plan was set in motion.

It all turned out great. As Alan came into the room, it was pitch black and we were all hiding in the closets. “There isn’t anyone here!” he exclaimed. We all couldn’t stop giggling as we turned on the lights, yelling “Happy Birthday!”

Alan jumped up. “So there are people here!” he remarked.

For the next fifteen minutes, standing there in a roomful of people wolfing down cake, downing Canada Dry, and popping balloons, I realized that I’d never done something so spur-of-the-moment and random here before. At Groton, the days can sometimes seem to drag on. It’s the spontaneous moments like this that make everything okay. A funny conversation, a quick game of foosball, or a surprise birthday party—these fifteen minutes of fun and joy can mean the world.

The aftermath of our fifteen-minute party