By Zach Schepis
The year is 1968 and Raenell Dawn is a second grader. The boys and girls in her class do not bring assortments of baked cupcakes, pastries, or other sweets to celebrate their birthdays–a tradition that parents years later will help to usher in.
Instead, the teacher simply asks each student for the day on which they were born.
“Is there anyone here that was born on February 29?”
It’s the last question to ask, after all of the other birth dates have been recorded. Dawn is the only one who hasn’t offered hers. Upon hearing the day, the little girl raises her hand.
“I was!” she exclaims, but she doesn’t receive the reaction she expected.
The teacher’s face droops before the class; a watchful pity furrowing her brow.
“Oh you poor, poor child,” the teacher says.
Recess soon follows, and Dawn finds herself alone. None of the other children want to play with her. Though she tries to ignore them, taunting shouts from the other classmates follow her.
“You can’t play with us!”
“You’re just a baby!”
Almost 50 years later, the bullying persists in classrooms around the world. For 187,000 citizens currently living in the United States, and nearly four million people worldwide, the reality of being born on Leap Year Day is a hard truth that must be acknowledged. Sadly, a large majority of the population still has no idea what the day signifies.
Dawn has been working ceaselessly for over three decades to end misconceptions regarding this unusual day and to spread awareness about its existence. The bullied second grader has grown to become a spirited, positive-thinking leader of the Leap Year movement. Born on February 29, 1960, Dawn isn’t 55 years-old, but rather 13 and three-quarters. She is also the founder of The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies.
The organization, which started with only 21 members in 1988, now includes over 10,000.
“A lot of people don’t understand what it is,” Dawn tells BTR. “So that’s why we want to help people recognize what and why the date occurs, and not be so freaked out about it. It’s not a bad thing.”
So what exactly is Leap Year Day, and how did it come into being?
As Dawn explains, origins date as far back as 46 BC. It was officially established in 1572 with the advent of the Gregorian calendar (our standard calendar). There are both common years and “leap” years that comprise it; put simply, a common year has 365 days while a leap year contains 366.
Why the extra day? This added date (also known as an intercalary) occurs every four years to help synchronize the calendar year with the solar year. In other words, the length of time it takes the earth to make a complete orbit around the sun is 365 and one-quarter days–not a round 365.
“February 29 was selected to be the extra day because February used to be the last month of the year,” Dawn explains. “When it was promoted to its current position, well, it maintained its responsibility to keep the balance between the calendar system and the seasons. If we didn’t have that, we’d be celebrating the holidays in different seasons.”
Despite the fact that Leap Year Day has remained a pivotal crux in the balance of human time-keeping for thousands of years, many still don’t understand it. Dawn was baffled to find out that calendar companies didn’t even consider it worthwhile to include the day on their products.
So she started posting ads in her local Los Angeles newspaper, searching for others like her. She made a visit to the library and thumbed through articles announcing birthdays. The first one she discovered, surprisingly, was a relative of hers: her second cousin Christopher, who was born on February 29, 1980.
Encouraged by an ever-growing list, Dawn decided she would form her own birthday club for people looking to share their experiences. Christopher ended up becoming the first member of the Leap Year Babies Limited–limited because they are “the limited edition” to the human race.
The race was on. She phoned into radio stations and local television broadcasts. On February 29, 1988, 21 members joined the club all at once after hearing radio announcements. When Dawn and her husband purchased their first computer in 1995 the search became even easier.
Much to their surprise, the couple discovered another club almost identical to their own. It was called The Leap Year Honor Society, run by the enthusiast Peter Brauer. After reaching out, Dawn and Brauer decided to consolidate their organizations into one, greater community. Thus, in 1997 the Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies was born.
Almost 11,000 members later, and Dawn’s dream of Leap Year day community building and awareness raising is an enormous success. She’s brought Leap Year Day into classrooms across the country, to blogs and television. Still, the effervescent go-getter believes there is much yet to be done before the next Leap Year Day: February 29, 2016.
“Right now there are thousands of women pregnant with a due date of February 29,” says Dawn. “We have to prepare this world to welcome their little Leaplings.”
To hear more of our interview with Raenell Dawn, tune into this week’s episode of Third Eye Weekly.