This past week I sat in on my son’s middle school graduation. Naturally, this was a tearful yet joyful occasion, and first rite of passage where my son and many of his friends sported graduation robes.
As is expected at graduations, school administration praised these kids. But having sat through a number of graduations previously, not just my own (sixth, eighth, 12th and college) as well as graduation ceremonies of others, there was something different that I saw in her sincerity as my son’s principal addressed these kids.
I remember the principal addressing my class when we graduated eighth grade a zillion years ago. At our rehearsal, we were told we were “the worst class ever to pass through the school’s doors.” Parents and others saw a different face though as we sat in our seats, waiting for our certificates, and our administrator grinned in a phony way through clenched teeth as he told all the beaming parents that we were “the best class” he’d ever experienced, and gave some general remarks.
My son’s principal, on the other hand, pointed out several specific recollections, and based on her reaction to these kids on graduation night, as well as several days prior when she choked up at an award ceremony while speaking about one student in particular, her sincerity was obviously genuine.
She recalled the impression that the students had on her this past year, in terms of kindness that they showed to others and their outreach within the community. She emphasized our children’s abilities to be able to laugh among each other, without laughing at each other, and to also give one another a hug, and help to dry each other’s tears when classmates among them were upset.
One of the days that these students bonded together, she recalled, was on a special day called “Challenge Day.” Challenge Day is a national initiative to help foster understanding between students…a program that is also used for teens, adults and business people actually…and for close to 30 years, kids around the country have learned to lift each other up in the face of social issues that have become rampant in our world including: prejudice, poverty, abuse bullying and drugs. The principal reflected the impressive cohesion between the students as they shared their fears, triumphs and various senses of loss among each other. Challenge Day helped to bridge understanding between the middle schoolers, and they responded well to the program.
I personally know when I asked my son about his school day that day, he told me about Challenge Day, and how moved he was. He let out a sigh and mentioned about how many of his fellow classmates cried as they reached deep into their own hearts, and learned about the hearts of others, and he was one of them.
As a Generation X’er, it made me think of how our generation would have benefitted from programs like this, where many kids, myself included, felt like we were each an island in terms of what we were battling with the stuff of life. In fact, recently, having met up with a high school friend who was in town, and who I hadn’t seen since high school, we learned how alike we truly were…and how we could have helped one another through some rough spots in our youth, if we each weren’t feeling so isolated back then. In fact, several of my friendships with those who I graduated with in my high school class have strengthened in adulthood, though with these particular friends, we didn’t have the bond then like we have now.
My son’s principal also recalled when the students did an environmental clean up day in one of our town’s local parks, as well as picking up trash and recycling materials in the surrounding watershed area. And she noted as the kids were finished with the clean up, or so she thought, the triumph of the day was several students coming over the horizon, who had retrieved a dumped tractor tire from one of the streams, and were pushing it together.
It’s the ingenuity, problem solving skills and compassion for the environment and others that make this generation – Generation Z – different than others we have seen since emerge since early in the 20th Century. And that’s a good thing actually. I’m not praising this generation simply because I have children in it, but because the way the kids are today with all that they juggle at once between school and activities, is truly impressive. In fact, these children will be well prepared for the world based on their abilities to take it all in stride and keep all the balls in the air that they do simultaneously.
“Generation Z” is classified as the first generation of the 21st Century, with those a part of it born approximately between the years of 1995 and 2007. The youth of this generation have been passed the torch of a number of events that have shaped them. Some of them experienced the world, if they were born early enough, to enjoy the country in a time of prosperity. Then also depending on their birthdates, these kids knew the world before 9/11, though some, like my child born only several weeks after the terror attacks, only know what a post-9/11 world is like.
Generation Z kids didn’t experience a world prior to the Internet. They don’t know about turning on a television without a remote, or having television run any less than 24/7. And most of them have never used a telephone without a cord, unless they were dragging a toy phone around in babyhood. Or, the only “pay phone” they’ve probably experienced is their own cell phone plans.
They’ve watched the bubble burst, in terms of our real estate market and economy. Though they may not have known that something had burst, they may have seen and even experienced the after effects, as some of their parents may have lost their jobs, been underemployed, and even had their homes scooped up from underneath them.
Not since the youth who were part of what is known as the “Greatest Generation” have young people been faced with challenges as the children born in Generation Z have looked at head on. These children, in fact, are being coined in their sub-Generation as the “New Silent Generation,” a sub-generation of the “Greatest Generation.”
That is a label that carries respect with it. The “Silent Generation” is comprised of those born from 1925 through 1945. The generation that preceded that generation, also part of the “Greatest Generation,” were known as the “G.I. Generation,” born between 1901 and 1924. It’s the G.I. Generation that knew World War II intimately as adults, and were the men and women who served the United States during wartime. It was also the “G.I. Generation” that worked to help rebuild the country following World War II and to bring it back to prosperity.
Both the “G.I. Generation” and the “Silent Generation,” depending on their birth years – the latter end of the timeline for the G.I. and the earlier end for the Silent – experienced traumatic circumstances as children with the nation as many of those in Generation Z have experienced. One of these events was The Great Depression, which has had the impact on our country like the economic climate Americans face today. Some of our kids today have faced tough fiscal circumstances, as well as war, with the War on Terror having begun when some in the New Silent Generation were kindergarten age, and for others, after they were born. In fact, for some of these children, all they have known throughout their entire childhood is tuning into the news and hearing about terroristic acts.
I personally have always looked to my grandparents’ generation, the G.I. Generation, as truly part of that “Greatest Generation.” My grandfather, for example, was born at the tail end of the G.I. Generation, and was young enough to enjoy the prosperity of the Roaring Twenties, and then the fall of the nation when The Great Depression hit. He witnessed his grandmother losing her home, and then his family moving in together to survive.
This generation was resilient. They picked themselves up by the bootstraps and solved their issues. My great-grandfather, an attorney, worked to restore prosperity to the family, later serving in World War II himself as a JAG (Judge Advocate General) and became a Superior Court Judge later in his career.
My grandfather, his son, worked hard and served in the Air Force. When he retired, he did so as a Captain. He worked full-time, and graduated college within four years at night.
He lived frugally and saved his pennies. I remember my grandfather chiding me at one point for having an unlisted home phone, because he felt even that dollar or two a month was a waste of money. I looked at it as part of his experience with having to live with the Depression and rations, where every bit of money counted…or as my grandmother, his wife, used to joke, “Every little bit helps said the man as he peed into the ocean.”
It was my grandmother who would tell me with her wit and wisdom how the two of them barely could afford a can of beans together, and lived in a garden apartment for many years, but noted how happy their lives were. She was originally from Scotland where her circumstances were even more impoverished than that…she always emphasized that she grew up in a time in Renfrew, Scotland there that, as the youngest child, she was the last one in her family (which included her cousins living in the same residence) to use the bath water, and also had to use newspaper as toilet paper…can you even imagine?
But eventually, my grandparents saved up for a home…and I remember around 1988 my grandmother talking about their “mortgage burning party” that they planned to have, to celebrate. My grandfather prided himself that he paid for everything with cash he saved, rather than having revolving debt, and the only revolving debt was their home.
It’s those who were more of the Baby Boomers who really taught the world about exorbitant spending, and the “endless cash flow” of credit cards. Many of them didn’t look at the “Greatest Generation” as so great, and actually viewed them, as sticks in the mud. And I would say that has rubbed off a bit on Generation X and even greater on the Y Generation…with the Generation Y, aka the “”Generation Why?” or the “Millennials,” who grew up questioning authority.
To me, Generation Y reflects much of the sub-generation that Baby Boomers are known as, which is the “Boom Generation” or the “Hippies.” It’s the generation that burned bras and questioned authority as the counterculture youth movement. The early Baby Boomers (those born from about 1945 through 1950) gave birth to the Generation X’ers, my generation, born between 1965 and 1980. Depending on their age, they also birthed the “MTV Generation,” born between 1975 and 1985. Born in the latter part of the Baby Boomer generation, some of them parented Generation Y or the “Millennials.”
In fact, publications like The New York Times have already analyzed this topic of how Generation Z will surpass the Millennials. “Move Over, Millenials, Here Comes Generation Z,” the headline booms.
“Millennials, after all, were raised during the boom times and relative peace of the 1990s,” the Times wrote, “only to see their sunny world dashed by the Sept. 11 attacks and two economic crashes, in 2000 and 2008. Theirs is a story of innocence lost. Generation Z, by contrast, has had its eyes open from the beginning, coming along in the aftermath of those cataclysms in the era of the war on terror and the Great Recession.”
The world that I grew up with was much different than my kids’ world is, and into which some of the Generation Y was born. Robin Leach’s “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” reigned, with people looking to keep up with the Joneses and live in McMansions. Be there or be square…or get caught in the undertow of life and be “out.” It was the Mastercard era, when commercials would show bikini-clad women smiling as they held up a plastic ticket to world wares.
It’s honestly that world that was much different than the world Generation Z kids are seeing, where people are learning to downsize, recycle, repurpose, reuse and restore the world to a better place. It’s not the dog eat dog world that the “Me Generation” aka the Baby Boomers inspired, and rubbed off on Generation X’s and Y’s. Kids today have access to everything, but they have to work hard for it, and are being taught that money doesn’t grow on trees, or from a credit card, and today’s youth are receiving an education in the debit card instead. They are also living in a generation that strives to downsize, in the small home movement and reduction of ecological footprints.
While Generation Z has the world at their fingertips through their mobile devices, these kids also have hearts and resilience that haven’t been seen or experienced in a generation since “The Greatest Generation.” While some have put down today’s youth for the indulgences of life that they can and have experienced, I feel my son’s generation, Generation Z, is a group of kids who can at times be self-absorbed as kids can, and especially in a world where selfies reign, but these kids certainly don’t have the narcissistic qualities that Baby Boomers, Generation X’ers and Generation Y typically have.
At the same time, The Times noted that Generation Z, children of Generation X’ers, have had parents who “have tried to give their children the safe, secure childhood that they never had,” which is pretty spot-on. Generation X kids were the ones out of those three groups that took the brunt of society. “Part of that obsession with safety is likely due to the hard times that both Generation Z members and their parents experienced during their formative years,” the article continued.
I can agree myself having been a latchkey kid, and one who grew up in times that felt uncomfortable, where kids had to just roll with whatever was doled out to them, and be lost in the shuffle and pain. The kids of today in Generation Z instead grab others by the hand and make sure no one is forgotten.
In fact, in the last 24 hours I’ve experienced how these kids care. My son told me that while coming into our neighborhood the other day from school, he saw some trash on the ground, picked it up and tossed it out. I also saw both he and his friend each crash into a player during their soccer game today, and each checked on those opposing players to see how they were. I could see my son and the other boy who he collided with, each shake hands in the heat of play. And then one other girl in their generation, noticed a homeless individual in the park where they were, and told us that she wanted to give her extra slice of pizza to one of them.
It’s these kids who are our future, and as one elder member of it who The Times interviewed said they are the “first true digital natives.”
But these kids are far from disconnected from people…in fact they seek to connect with others.
“’No man is an island unto himself’…that statement is passed with meaning… that as young men and women you are just beginning to fully understand…my hope is that you always keep in mind that the world is relying on you,” his principal told his class at graduation. “You are our future leaders, inventors and the caretakers of our communities and world…be the change.”
I believe these kids, born between 1995 and 2007 are already the change…they see difficulties, but they see solutions. They know we live in a troubled world, but they have faith. They are doers and are “do-gooders.” They are colorblind and love one another, embracing each other as people, not even recognizing each other as diverse, just loving one another as fellow humans. They are a blend and product of the modern planet, with old-world respect for others and politeness towards others. These are the kids who, like my grandfather witnessed, will help to pull one another and the world up by the bootstraps.
As one of the top groups from my generation Duran Duran sings in their song, “She’s Too Much,” a song that Simon LeBon wrote about his own child, “Someday, she might just be the one, whose going to save us all…if this apocalypse is coming!”
I do believe that these kids can do anything they set their minds to in this generation. I believe this “New Silent Generation” is on its way to being known as the “Next Greatest Generation.”
And I know many who would second that nomination.
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