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Leap Year Terps Tell All

Terps Born on Feb. 29 Face Odd Questions, Enjoy Unique Experiences

By Sala Levin ’10

adult celebrates with cake with "10" candles, present and confetti

Grownups celebrating birthdays more befitting for a middle schooler? Thank Feb. 29 and its quadrennial appearance. It's just one of the things Terp leap year babies contend with.

Illustration by Adobe Stock

They’ve heard all the usual jokes. (“Can you order a beer? You’re only 9 years old!”) They’ve suffered the indignities. (Starbucks’ app doesn’t offer Feb. 29 as an option to register for a free birthday drink.) They’ve received children’s gifts. (Some even lean into it. Turning 40? Why not have a unicorn cake your 10-year-old self would’ve loved!)

Only 0.07% of the world’s population was born on Feb. 29, so leap year babies can be treated like unicorns themselves. The handful of leaplings in the University of Maryland community are feeling it more than ever right now.

“When people find out, they have a lot of questions,” said Caroline Bodnar, career adviser for the College of Arts and Humanities in the University Career Center (who’s having that particular cake this year). “Usually, I’m the first they’ve met, so I’ve had to field some bizarre questions through the years. You can see the wheels turning trying to work it out. They think maybe I actually don’t age the same as other people.”

At least, leap babies said, this year brings an occasion that only comes around every four years: the chance to celebrate their birthday on the actual day they were born.

“I have to go big” on Feb. 29, said Laura McCulley, assistant director of student engagement in the Adele H. Stamp Student Union. She usually plans a trip for leap years—this year, she’ll be going to Fort Lauderdale with friends.

Leap day birthdays aren’t planned of course—except for the few that are. McCulley was due in April but arrived two months early, weighing 3 pounds, 11 ounces. Bodnar had already blown way past her due date by the time her mom scheduled her induction to land on Feb. 29. “For most of my life, I kind of thought that cheapened the experience a little bit,” she said. “But now I think, well, I could have come any day before the induction, but I waited. I wanted that special birthday.”

The first dilemma that must be settled for those with leap day birthdays is when to celebrate in typical years. It’s a question that sharply divides the community, people say.

“I’ve heard my share of arguments that it’s supposed to be March 1,” said Bodnar. “I wasn’t yet born on Feb. 28, so technically and logically, it’s the day after that day.”

Still, Bodnar feels connected to the second month of the year. “I like thinking that I was born on the last day of February.” She also prefers February’s birthstone, amethyst, to March’s: aquamarine.

Steven Hand, senior health physicist and laser safety officer in the Department of Environmental Safety, Sustainability and Risk, agrees. “You celebrate on the 28th. You weren’t born in March.”

McCulley counters: “My mother says she had a baby the day after the 28th,” she said. Therefore: March 1. (Hand responded: “You can give me [McCulley’s] number and I’ll set them straight. They got lost along the way there, so we need to bring them back in.”)

They can’t help but love the birthday’s novelty. “I’ll hand someone my ID, and they’ll get a big smile on their face and just want to hear the story,” Bodnar said. “I always like that part.” In school, classroom celebrations were always a little heartier for Leap Day birthdays than the usual birthday, said McCulley. “The teachers would make a big deal about it.”

And don’t worry—persistence will solve that problem with the Starbucks treat. “I emailed customer service, and they gave me the free drink,” said Bodnar.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.