Melissa Oro

A modern-day debutante

By  Melissa Oro, Youth Speak News
  • June 19, 2014

People say age is just a number, but the number 18 screams “stepping into adulthood.” In the Filipino tradition, the tradition of my family, when a young lady turns 18, it’s a huge celebration, which is popularly known as a “debut.” 

A Filipino debut is a coming-of-age event traditionally celebrated for young women on their 18th birthday. A typical Filipino debut program includes the debutante’s handpicked entourage of nine young women and nine young men dressed in formal attire also chosen by the celebrant. The entourage and the birthday girl, also accompanied by her escort, perform the “Grand Cotillion Dance” which is a classic waltz. The program also includes the “Eighteen Roses Dance” where 18 men who are close to the debutante give her a rose and then dance with her. Then 18 of her female friends each present her with a candle and a speech. 

The whole thing sounds extravagant and it is such a big deal in my family’s culture, so imagine my mother’s shock when I refused to celebrate my 18th birthday with a debut. For me, that huge spotlight is frightening. 

So in June, I turned 18 and I agreed to dinner at The David Duncan House, a historic house-turned-restaurant, in a private room with a few of my closest family and friends. My mother bought me a beautiful dress. I expected something small, an intimate dinner. Instead, there was a small debut program planned out and 40 guests. 

At the reception, almost every single person in the room presented a heartwarming speech about the importance of turning 18 and how stepping in to adulthood from my teenage years is a huge and difficult leap. 

All of the speeches were dear to me, but there seemed to be a pattern with most of them. Several of my family members told me to keep God close because He is the only one who will always be there for me and the one who will guide me down the right life path. 

I remember a line specifically from the letter my uncle, who is a priest, sent from the Philippines: “At 18, never forget that God has been there all along in your life. Pray even if it doesn’t work. Have faith. You will lose nothing if you have faith. It will make you a better woman.” 

That line hit me the hardest. It’s natural for somebody who is turning 18 to completely focus on a party; however, shifting my focus towards God helped me appreciate the countless blessings I’ve received on my special day. My uncle’s letter reminded me that at 18, I’m unstoppable when it comes to reaching my goals, as long as I allow God to be at my side. The party was focused on me, but my focus was on God. 

(Oro, 18, is a Grade 12 student at St. Joseph’s College School in Toronto.) 

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