Nationwide stay-at-home orders have halted Cal Poly students’ traditional birthday celebrations. No matter how students typically celebrate, social distancing restrictions have challenged them to become creative in recognizing their special day. 

Hannah Oliveria, a journalism freshman, celebrated her 19th birthday under California’s stay-at-home order with a drive-by parade and an In-N-Out dinner.

Oliveria returned home to the Central Valley in March. Her family is full of essential workers: her father a construction manager, her mother a nurse and her sister a nursing school student who currently works at a hospital. Oliveria told her family that she did not want an extravagant celebration or gifts in an effort to prevent financial hardships. Her one request was In-N-Out for dinner.

“I felt like [my birthday] wouldn’t be very special due to our circumstances,” Oliveria said.

As Oliveria’s birthday approached, however, she said that she began feeling more excited about the day.

On May 3, Oliveria woke up to a close friend dropping off coffee and large letter signs spelling out “Happy Birthday” on the front lawn. Afterwards, Oliveria and her family had a cornhole tournament and a barbecue for lunch.

A few hours later, Oliveria’s sister said that she had a surprise and walked her out to the front yard. When Oliveria opened her eyes, about 15 cars had driven by, full of friends wishing her a happy birthday with signs.

“The people who really care about you show you,” Oliveria said. “All of my true and close friends put in effort to make me feel loved on my birthday.”

Oliveria’s neighbor is a DJ and he played music as the parade of cars passed by, wishing Oliveria a happy birthday over the speaker. Afterwards, Oliveria and her family ate the requested meal of In-N-Out and macaroons that had been delivered earlier for dessert.

Oliveria said she was initially disappointed to have not spent her first birthday as a college student in San Luis Obispo. But thanks to her family and friends’ effort and coordination, she said her 19th birthday felt more special than other birthdays to date.

“I think that this birthday will always stand out because we were in quarantine,” Oliveria said. “It will remind me that you don’t have to have a party or a lot of people over for a celebration.”

Maddie Alexander, a biology senior, celebrated her 22nd birthday with roommates in San Luis Obispo.

Alexander said that although she is not much of a birthday person, she was looking forward to attending Shabang for her birthday weekend. After Shabang was cancelled in March, Alexander said she planned on celebrating her birthday with close friends.

“I enjoyed having this time,” Alexander said. “I had some extra free time and there wasn’t a ton of pressure to go out.”

On May 6, Alexander celebrated turning 22 with a birthday breakfast with her five roommates. She then went to the beach to spend time reflecting on the past year. Throughout the day, Alexander received birthday messages and social media posts from friends, which she said made it feel more like her birthday.

While Alexander had to work from home as a supplemental workshop facilitator in the evening, she later enjoyed a birthday dinner and watched a movie with her roommates.

“My birthday was a day to put things in perspective, see where I was last year, count my blessings and feel grateful,” Alexander said. 

Jacob Canale, a business administration freshman, celebrated his 19th birthday with a small gathering of friends and a Zoom call with family.

When Canale moved back home to Martinez, California from his Yosemite dorm room in March, he did not consider that his birthday might be spent under California’s stay-at-home order.  

Canale said that he was disappointed to not celebrate his birthday in San Luis Obispo.

“I was definitely excited to celebrate my birthday with all the new friends I have made, especially people in Urban Movement,” Canale said. 

Canale decided to plan for a birthday celebration at home, making the most of current circumstances.

“It was important to me to take advantage of a somewhat special event, and get together and have some fun,” Canale said.

On April 24, Canale celebrated turning 19 on his front lawn. A few of Canale’s friends stopped by his house to visit, sitting six feet apart from one another with masks on. Canale said that he appreciated the company and his friends’ efforts to celebrate his birthday.

“Today was like, ‘Oh, you get to do what you normally do, but not really,’” Canale said.

Afterwards, Canale’s parents surprised him by creating a Zoom call with extended family, all singing happy birthday. Later, Canale had dinner, opened presents and ate cake with his parents. 

Canale said celebrating his birthday while quarantined was “a humbling experience.”

“It made me more grateful for the previous birthdays and more appreciative of normalcy,” Canale said.  

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