YOUNG MILLENNIALS. Listen, I gotta tell you all something about your student habits, because I’m sick of hearing older folks who’ve never set foot in a classroom with millennials dictate your behavior to me.
I’m a “middle child” millennial and a college instructor. Specifically, I teach writing – creative, persuasive, and analytical. Thanks to my subject, I’ve the good fortune of teaching diverse age groups. So let’s talk about you, wee millennials.
Boomers pretty regularly chime in to tell you that you’re the worst generation of students to ever punch and kick your way up to academia. I don’t have to recap this, right? That you have no attention span, that you’re inherently disrespectful, that you’re as-a-rule entitled, and that – in so many words – your brains have been somehow blunted by the media you consume, leaving you with heads full of unimaginative kibble.
This familiar? I fucking bet it is. People have been blasting you with this all your life, probably. But you know what I see in you the most? It’s not entitlement. It’s not inattention. It’s fear of failing.
I can see so many of you feel unsure of yourself in class. You’re used to being told that your ideas are arrogant and underformed, maybe. Maybe you were from the GiftedTM child echelons, pressured by expectations so intense you now equate difficult tasks with unworthiness or low intelligence. Look, whatever the reason: as a generation, and as an age group, so many of you have already gagged yourselves before you even step into my room, before you even hit twenty-one. You’re an uncomfortable kind of quiet. The restless, disconcerting quiet you get when you shake the shit out of a soda can – when you can squeeze your palm tight and actually feel the chemical reactions trapped behind the tin.
Some of you deflect that fear
by avoiding interacting with me and trying to hide among your classmates. Some
of you ignore the reading material and assignments, using underpreparation as
an excuse not to try. But when you overcome that – when, with a little coaxing,
you commit to poking out of your bubble of shame – I want you to know that you consistently amaze me.
God, I wish you could see
yourselves thinking things through together like I see you do every day. You’re
bar none my brightest, most argumentative, most intellectually courageous
students. Your minds crank and turn in these wild right angles. You all are
like baby spiders, jumping between diverse topics connected by gossamer threads
so novel and so new, sometimes I take longer to map them than you do. You are
the ones who ask questions I can’t answer off the cuff. You’re willing to take risks, to go
places, and to work through your emotions openly in a way my older
students rarely do.
Do you know the raw, authentic, one-of-a-kind benefit that is to a classroom? In case you don’t, let me tell you as a teacher that in a classroom full of tuned-in young millennials, I know someone is going to walk out of that course with prejudices challenged and assumptions shaken in special ways I, as an instructor, cannot recreate by myself. You don’t make me ugh and whine to my colleagues. I love having you in class. When I have a room full of energized young millennials – those who have decided to refuse to feel ashamed of their youth – I never have dead air. I always have debates and passions and questions. That’s a professor’s dream.
Sure, I often have to chide a sprinkling of you for chronic redditing
in class (because somebody doesn’t
realize those bay windows behind you reflect screens), and yeah, you have what
we’ll gently call a “creative wordcount inflation” problem. (Dude, look at what I do; I know the difference between double-space
and triple-space action. C’mon.) But that’s a maturity and empathy thing, not a generational thing; most of you snap out of it and grow up fast once you realize I’m a human, too. The rest of those anti-millennial stereotypes are pure whipped
You’ve been pitted against rigid expectations of a limited definition of greatness all while being heaped with extreme economic anxiety and condescending noise for so long. So my advice to the millennial in undergrad – or any school – is to try, bit-by-bit or in big leaps, to let that millennial stereotype the world thrusts upon you go. Fuck anyone who goes out of their hoary-ass way to give you an inferiority complex about how the rest of the world sees you. The fact is, yes: you’ve grown up with a powerful tool at your fingertips – a collection of data and connectivity your elders didn’t have – and it’s shaped you into something thoughtful, dreamy, righteous, and intense. You are so full of new ideas and questions. The best thing you can do for yourselves is to open the fucking soda, babies, and give yourself a chance to think openly and beautifully. You may misstep here and there, you may make some messes, but whatever they may tell you – you’re supposed to do that. That’s how you change and make change. You won’t regret it.
Yall frustrate the hell out of me sometimes, and sometimes I have trouble convincing you that you’re not the hapless, hopeless kids everyone has been so condescendingly saying you are. But you’re worth it. Even if you don’t think you are yet – you’re worth it to me.
P.S. IT’S FUCKING ALWAYS THE VERY MATURE & RESPECTFUL BOOMERS WHO CAN’T GET THE FUCK OFF THEIR PHONES