Originally created 10/10/00

Sweet sixteen

Alesha Morgan is crossing a threshold.

It's a common, familiar step, but it's imbued with meaning: she's growing up.

She's turning 16, the age when things start to happen.

Sweet 16 is a dividing line in American culture, the sign that someone is moving toward adulthood and freedom, symbolized by nothing so much as the hoped-for driver's license. The license lets teens take some control of their comings and goings and breaks the dependence on others.

"When I get my driver's license, that's when I think I'll really feel it," Alesha said, exactly one day and two hours after turning 16 on Sept. 27. "I have to get it in March, because I got my permit in March."

Alesha's parents also provided another tangible symbol of her crossing the threshold into adulthood. They threw an elaborate party that brought family from across the country and scores of friends as witnesses. The event, held at Radisson Riverfront Hotel's ballroom on Sept. 30, included more than 185 guests and cost more than $8,000 to put on.

"I told her, `Don't get any bigger - maybe you can wear the dress again for your wedding,"' her mother, Vernell Morgan, said with a laugh.

Alesha's parents wanted to do something special for their daughter, an honors student at Cross Creek High School and a "very good daughter," Mrs. Morgan said.

The idea for the birthday event came from an anniversary party Mrs. Morgan threw for her mother, and a friend's quinceanera - the traditional public celebration of a Latina girl entering adulthood on her 15th birthday.

"If you're in America, it's 16 - when you turn 16 you get to do more things," said Mary Nowlin, now 16, whose quinceanera gave the Morgans the idea. "When I turned 15, I had so much fun doing it, I was sad when it was all over with."

The quinceanera originally let society know that a girl had reached sexual maturity and was available for marriage. It has become more like a debutante's presentation, with symbolic ceremonies such as lighting of candles, presentation of flowers and exchanging flat shoes for those with heels. Like debutante balls, quincinearas often feature white dresses similar to wedding dresses.

The Morgans adapted some of the customs of a quinceanera for Alesha's party, including a formal dance. Alesha and 29 friends - 14 girls and 15 boys - practiced evenings at school to prepare for the ballroom-style dancing. A professional singer also performed.

"We decided to add more of the dancing," Alesha said. "And we added some of our own traditions."

The Morgans planned moments during the celebration that symbolized Alesha's move into adulthood. She showed respect for older members of her family by offering them flowers, and she presented a doll to a younger cousin.

"It's to symbolize that I'm going out of dolls, passing it on to somebody," Alesha said. "It makes you feel special."

Reach Alisa DeMao at (706) 823-3223 or ademao@augustachronicle.com.


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