The high school graduates who will cross the stage in coming weeks to accept their diplomas occupy a unique place in history even before they begin the next phase in their lives.
The bulk of the high school graduating classes this year are teens who were born in the 21st century, and who have grown up entirely in a post-9/11 world in which turmoil, violence and unrest are the status quo.
Their lives began around the time terrorist attacks claimed 3,000 lives. They grew up watching similar horrors from smaller but frequent terrorism strikes, two Mideast wars, random acts of domestic violence and ever-shifting global conflicts. Their home nation has been torn by political rhetoric growing uglier by the year spewed from warring camps entrenched in broadcast and online outlets.
Theirs is the most connected generation, living on a globe linked by instant information — and disinformation — from tweets, posts and texts, technology linking us closer even as it seems to separate us further.
They have more access to news about the world around them than ever before. Even before the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting rallied many to activism, their political antennae were vibrating.
The Class of 2018 has come of age at a difficult time.
This is not to say previous generations didn’t have their own crosses to bear: World wars, cold wars, depressions, Vietnam, social upheaval. But the march of news since 2001 has careened from one cataclysm to another with no pause to catch a breath. At the same time, many watched their parents endure financial struggles after the Great Recession, and the students’ lives changed as a result.
While there are some who are quick to label today’s young people as “snowflakes” lacking in the personal skills needed for survival in the “real” world, we suspect most are tough in ways different from those of previous generations.
These are kids who have cut their teeth on world chaos. There’s mettle among them, as shown by some who have been politically active on a variety of different fronts.
This generation of grads has a lot of good things going for it. For one, they may be better prepared as they emerge from school systems that have adopted high-tech learning tools and worked harder to steer more graduates into high-growth trades and industries.
The realization may finally have sunk in that the world has enough liberal arts majors but not enough electricians, welders and technicians. Now more students are leaving high school with realistic goals tailored to help them fit into the world, not the other way round. The concept of “knowledge for the sake of knowledge,” is beautiful in theory, but doesn’t always pay the power bill.
Those who do go to college may find it takes a while to find their own confidence and inner strength. Despite being called the “selfie generation,” self-confidence seems to be lacking for many. Self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness among adolescents began decreasing in 2012, according to an article in a journal published by the American Psychological Association. Those spending more time looking at digital screens had lower psychological well-being, according to the article.
Rates of depression, generalized anxiety and social anxiety have shown a clear growth trend in recent years, according to a 2017 annual report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health examining college students receiving mental health services. Anxiety and depression are the top reasons students seek mental health services.
But who can be surprised at those findings? Look at the world the adults in their lives have given them. If you wonder what is wrong with today’s young people, you may need to look in a mirror.
This year’s graduating classes are not yet ready to put their mark on the world, nor to establish their place in it. But that time will come, sooner instead of later.
As members of the baby boomer generation fade from the scene, these new post-millennials will establish their own social, political and environmental agendas.
Only time will tell if they manage to do a better job than their parents and grandparents. They would do well, however, to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors while embracing the successes of their elders. The hubris of inexperience can lead some to dismiss what previous generations have endured.
Today is also Mother’s Day, a perfect time for graduates to remember that the women who gave them life possess worldly experience that can only be gained through living. Honor that amazing lady not just with flowers but with respect for a life lived. Share that reverence with all of her generation who, even in their many mistakes and evident flaws, have tried very hard to make the world better for their children.
The sober reality of the ruthless world this year’s graduates have witnessed in almost two decades could be a blessing in disguise as they advance to college, work, military and other endeavors. While those who came before may have thought the world was their oyster to crack on a whim, the 9/11 generation knows nothing is for certain — not success, not prosperity, not even life itself.
That’s not a bad way to enter adulthood: With eyes and ears open and ego in check. In fact, that’s not a bad mantra for those of any age.
Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.