• Madelynne Juenger

this is what 21 looks like: a letter to my 15-year-old self.

Dear fifteen-year-old Madelynne,


I know that from where you are right now, 21 feels very far away. And it is. A lot of things will happen to you before then, but I pinky promise you that sticking around for 21 will be worth it.


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I’ve kept our tradition of falling asleep before midnight the night before our birthday, because waking up a new age still feels momentous and exciting. (Don’t worry, I haven’t gotten over the magical feeling that anything can happen on birthdays.) At 5:30am I jump out of bed, meet my roommate (and one of my new best friends) Ann Marie downstairs, grab my stained and loved picnic blanket, and run out the door. My house is only a five-minute walk away from a park with a beautiful view of the city skyline, and this is where I meet Gwyn and Olivia to all watch the sunrise together. They were with me in London last year too, and I smile, knowing how special it is to have friends in my life that recognize the importance of birthday traditions and sunrises.



We sit and watch as the sun begins to peak its head up just left of the buildings I’ve come to memorize over the past three years. The sun is vibrantly red and breathtakingly beautiful. I take it as a good sign.


Olivia remembers the song we listened to last year and blasts “Birthday” by The Beatles through her iPhone speaker as we all sing along and take pictures of the pink sky. We sit back in the dewy grass, our shorts soaking wet, and then head out for breakfast (just narrowly missing an attack from the Drexel Park sprinkler system). The morning consists of bagels, grapefruit juice, and feeling productive before 9:00am.



I head back home to get properly dressed as my friends depart for classes and work.

I think that at around fifteen, you are just starting to discover the magic of dresses. Specifically, the magic of dresses paired with converse. Cute AND practical? It’s a faithful combination that will last you all the way into 21.


I decide that the day would best be lived in the blue and purple lacey dress I thrifted a couple weeks before. This is the dress that I would describe as what one might create if they were to dip into my brain and build a garment out of my dreams. It’s pretty much perfect. And, yes. I pair it with white converse.


After donning an outfit that makes me feel like a princess, I decide that the day ahead will be spent preparing decorations for a Harry Potter themed party and probably eating too much sugar.


But fifteen-year-old Madelynne, I want you to know exactly what 21 looks like. Because it’s really hecking wonderful.


21 looks like a surprise picnic your friends managed to throw for you, even though you were trying to plan a picnic that would occur at the same exact time in a different location. (Kaila and Ann Marie will go along with your plan, and then go ahead and make one that is a million times better.)


21 looks like a flower crown being placed on your head and confetti strewn across a very loved and well-worn picnic blanket. You will think about all the times you tried to throw picnics to make friends freshman year and then you will tear up looking at the beautiful faces that this blanket has brought together now.




21 looks like spinning around to Taylor Swift songs that used to make you sad at fifteen, but now make you incredibly happy. “Mean” will come on, and instead of crying to the music video in your room, you will twirl around and see thoughtful, sweet, hilarious friends on one side and a beautiful, glowing big old city on the other.





21 looks like smiling so much that your cheeks hurt and feeling so happy that you don’t know how to properly express your feelings with words. It looks like trying not to cry as people sing happy birthday to you because you are so overwhelmed with joy.


It looks like friends who will bring you chocolate cake and sparkling cider, but who will also figure out how to make the best alcoholic butter beer in the world (because you are 21 after all.) It looks like friends who will bring you to a bar with pictures of dogs everywhere and then dance with you until 2:00am at a place playing all the best 60s music.


It looks like tulips and chocolate from your family and a massive cookie cake from Cole in Virginia. It looks like a Hogwarts letter that comes in the mail ten years late and makes you cry, because it’s personalized for Madelynne Catherine Juenger in the Room on the Third Floor, and you’ve never received anything more thoughtful. It looks like a facetime call with your best friend Rebekah who holds up a Michelle Obama magnet and yellow pancake socks and sends love all the way from a different country.






21 looks like friends driving up from Virginia for the weekend just to attend your Harry Potter themed birthday party. (You will meet these people soon and they will make high school and life so so so much better. I promise.) It looks like dozens of people crammed in your kitchen all wearing costumes and drinking potion themed cocktails and not complaining about your playlist of One Direction and musical theater songs.


21 looks happy.




I know that right now life is difficult. High school is hard and you haven’t quite figured out the whole “friends” aspect yet. I know that figuring out where to sit in the cafeteria is a daily stressor, but I also want you to know that soon you will live in a house where you will keep extra chairs around because there are never enough places for people to sit down. I know that presentations are terrifying and you haven’t figured out how to cope with your social anxiety yet, but I also want you to know that someday you will adventure to a foreign country for a month and not speak the language, but still manage to communicate confidently.

15 is terrifying and lonely. It is confusing and sometimes you will feel lost and other times it will feel like fictional characters and Taylor Swift are the only people who understand. And that’s okay.


I know that 21 will probably be terrifying and lonely at parts too. But I guess I’m figuring out that even though I can be lonely, I’m never actually alone. I know this is the kind of thing you will roll your eyes at and not believe, but you’re supposed to respect your elders so just go with it, okay?


15 is challenging, but beautiful in its own way. Things will be rough, but I just want you to know that it gets better.


I pinky promise it gets better.


Because one day you will be 21, and you will be twirling around dressed as Luna Lovegood at your party and you will see Katie, Christian, Henry, and Macon all intertwined in a group with Kaila, Ann Marie, Abby, Neil, Danielle, CJ, Henry, Ryan, Olivia, Elaina, and Digger the cat.


And you will be happy.


Lots of love,

21-Year-Old Madelynne

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