Reflection: It Came from Generation Y

We are the generation that hops on a dirty metro at 11 p.m. to stand outside the club in the cold with our multi-ethnic group of friends. We are the generation that spends more time posting Facebook statuses that lament our academic workload–reveling in the shared misery–than we do actually outlining the paper or studying for the final. We are the generation that will call someone “brah” or “dude” one minute, seemingly by instinct and even in moments of sheer terror, and then turn around and spout our views on the war in Iraq to anyone who’ll listen, from some guy on the bus to our History professor. We’re cynics who voted for a man whose slogan was “hope and change,” for god’s sake. We are, without question, a confusing bunch.

And that’s why I’m really looking forward to the day one of us becomes president.

Generation Y is hyped as selfish, privileged and braggart. Our narcissism, it is said, stems from the fact that our Baby Boomer parents experienced such turmoil in their adolescence–civil rights, women’s rights, a space race, a killed president, ‘Nam, then a game of chicken with nuclear weapons–that they spoiled us, their little ones, with too much love and affection, overcompensating for the bleakness they’d seen by teaching us we were special even when we weren’t, that we were winners even when we lost. Need proof? One of the most popular books about Gen Y, “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy,” is rated five out of five stars on Amazon after 25 ratings. The King James version of the Holy Bible, in comparison, has only four stars after 21 ratings. People must really think we’re complacent, impudent buttholes.

But are we? Evidence suggests it’s a reputation that sticks because it’s convenient (and time-honored: who doesn’t blame the kids?)–not because it’s true.

Billed as soft, self-centered yuppies, Gen Y is the most volunteering American generation to ever live. For many young people, the dream job after school isn’t Wall Street or Big Law, but Teach for America or Peace Corps–it’s being deployed to a distressed location where their training can improve other people’s lives. A 2007 Deloitte survey found that 62 percent of Gen Y respondents “preferred to work for a company that provided opportunities to apply skills to benefit nonprofit organizations.” Called apathetic, Gen Y is one of the most politically conscious generations in American history, surpassing even its revolution-ensconced parents. With our “record turnout,” we were vital to Obama’s election. Politics is our religion–we’re maybe over-involved, so enamored are we of sardonic cults of personality like those following Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. And as for being “lazy” and “unmotivated”? Whereas Generation X and to a lesser extent their children, our parents, strived to be robotically productive “company men”–faceless workers in a big machine that got a promotion or two–twenty-somethings today just don’t want money. We want fulfillment, and we go looking for it in ventures of our own design. Mark Zuckerberg is the face of Gen Y not because he’s super-rich, but because he got that way on account of his own guile, talents and ideas.

All things considered, Gen Y is probably going to yield some of the greatest politicians in history. Yes, we tend to believe that our bachelor’s and master’s degrees entitle us to the world–especially if we made Phi Beta Kappa. At least, however, this same world is one we also want to serve. We’ve proven our civic mind and activist heart–along with some fierce technological savvy. Is it any wonder The New York Times personally asked us to save everyone? If only people could see our LinkedIns–then they wouldn’t underestimate us.

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