What are millennials thinking?
Every year, Beloit College offers a glimpse with its “mindset list,” which offers dozens of single sentence declarations to reflect the current state of the familiar for incoming freshmen.
This year’s list, describing the mindset of the 2019 college graduate, indicates that, for these millennials, “first responders have always been heroes” (No. 36), “four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park” (No. 5) and “TV has always been in such high definition that they could see the pores of actors and the grimaces of quarterbacks” (No. 44).
Also on the list, at No. 9: “The announcement of someone being the ‘first woman’ to hold a position has only impressed their parents.”
Media coverage and recent voter turnout in the Democratic primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire indicate this is an accurate assessment of the millennial mind even when we are talking about electing the first woman to be president of the United States. If Hillary Clinton is to win over millennials, she will do so by emphasizing strengths beyond her gender.
This is not an unreasonable or insurmountable expectation, but as revelations go, it is a breathtaking one for many mothers of millennials. An army of strong mothers and the men who love them has raised children who see nothing special about a woman willing to speak her mind. Who predicted that one?
In my Kent State journalism classrooms, I am frequently on the receiving end of what’s on millennials’ minds. They are as opinionated and diverse as we baby boomers have always wanted to believe is true about ourselves.
The difference is that boomers have held center stage in public discourse for so long that we seem not to have noticed all those millennials entering, stage left. Our spotlight is dimming, my friends. Round of applause, please, for this generation that is not waiting for the invitation.
They have so much on their minds — and not just college debt. Let’s acknowledge that not all millennials toss their mortarboards into the air and trek off to four-year (or five-year or six-year) colleges. For too many of those who do, daily college life includes two or three jobs — not to afford extras, as was the case in my generation, but to pay the basic expenses to stay in school.
Climate change. Immigration. The economy. Race relations. Abortion rights. Millennials talk about all of this. They have more opinions than solutions — but doesn’t that sound just like us in our 20s? Let me save you the wasted energy of those “But — but — but!” denials: Yes, we were so very like them, my fellow boomers; the wind was at our backs as we pushed off the starting block into the rest of our lives. Off we went.
Remember how easily we rose from our chairs — man, I miss that — and how we couldn’t bare to consider how one day we would be precisely who we’ve become? Now here we are: older and maybe wiser (but let’s not bet our retirement on it), shading our eyes and squinting at the finish line.
Why were we in such a hurry?
We were young. That’s why.
We made the most of our youth or we squandered it, or maybe we ended up somewhere in between, but we’ve all arrived at the same place. The unthinkable has come to pass. The center of the universe has shifted, and we’re not in it. Our “Me” generation is outnumbered — and soon will be outranked — by a generation of young Americans not much interested in our monologues of remember when. They are the rebuke we once embraced, the twins to our younger selves.
Except that, unlike us, most of them have not grown up thinking it is their destiny to outrun their parents’ successes. Not even close. If you don’t believe me, ask them.
Better yet, let’s all of us listen to them. In prime time.
We’ve had enough presidential debates and town halls full of partisans and high-end donors who cackle and hoot like city folks at their first pig auction. This is no way to vet a president.
If we’re serious about the importance of millennial voters — and we’re all insisting that we are — then where are the forums to hear from them? Two televised town halls, one for each party, moderated by millennials for a millennial crowd, would be as instructive for millennials as it would for everyone clinging to their assumptions about them.
What do we have to fear?
There’s a list for you: The baby boomer mindset.
No. 1: We are afraid of becoming irrelevant.
No. 2: Where did I put my car keys?
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist.