They’re not ONLY about selfie sticks and Instagram likes.
“I like teenagers!” I declared to a crowd of anxious parents of high school juniors a few weeks ago. I didn’t share this opinion as a way of getting their attention. Believe it or not, I really DO enjoy and like teenagers.
Whenever I disclose this “revelation” during my talks about college admissions and financial aid, I usually hear such remarks as, “God bless you!” or “Why?”
I even had one father recently ask, “Are you insane?” No. I’m not delusional.
This generation, called Millennials or Twixters by the media, has been labeled entitled,narcissistic, opinionated, selfish, and lazy by parents, grandparents, educators and the media. And, I’m positive that these ‘older folks’ can site examples to support their theory. I submit, however, that my 30+ years of experience working with teenagers gives me a perspective and an understanding that few of my peers possess.
I find most members of this generation to be nice, respectful, cautious, determined, dreamers, outspoken, and accepting. Retired NBC anchor and author of The Greatest Generation, Tom Brokaw, agrees with me.
He calls them the “Wary Generation” and thinks their cautiousness in life decisions is a smart response to their world. “Their greatest mantra has been challenging convention. Finding new and better ways of doing things.”
This is the generation of 9/11, the longest wars in United States history, the Great Recession, the Arab Spring, and ISIS terrorist attacks — and despite all that they have witnessed and the challenges for their future, most Twixters are optimistic.
Let me introduce you to but a few of the thousands of students that I have helped gain access to college admissions:
1. The future CIA security analyst.
Ann is a 17 year old, firstborn high school senior living with Mom and Dad in Ohio. When I first met her, she announced to me that, “One day, I intend to work for Homeland Security or the CIA. I’m going to be a security analyst.”
It’s not often that I speak to teenagers with such a specific goal. During the eighteen months I’ve worked with her, I’ve found her to be very respectful, determined, and cautious. She completed any task I requested, visiting all of the schools within a five-state area that offered degrees in her chosen field and revising her college essay ELEVEN times before submission.
She questioned me extensively about college finances and has applied for multiple scholarships as well as putting any money from her part-time job into a savings account so that she “eon’t have any college debt when [she] graduates.” I have no doubt that 4 years from now, Ann will begin her career as a security analyst without any college loans — and that’s more to say than many of us ‘older people’.
2. The special-needs teacher in the making.
Christian is a 20 year old, middle child living in his college dorm in Maryland. When I first met him 4 years ago, his faith in God and love of basketball were his primary motivators in life. He not only didn’t know what he wanted to do, he was averse to even looking at possible career choices.
“I know I love God, and I love basketball. Why isn’t that enough for now?” We had many discussions about his goals and the next steps. He was always respectful and listened to whatever I shared. However, he CHALLENGED the idea of attending college right after high school, forcing me to think outside the box.
“I don’t know what’s out there. I can’t be expected to make a decision about what I want to do with my life if I haven’t experienced any possibilities.” I found a gap-year program for him in Louisiana, where he worked with troubled youth and now he is in his second year of college studying to be a special education teacher. I spoke to him recently and he stated, “I still love God and basketball. And now, I also love helping kids. I can’t wait until I can have my own classroom.”
3. The all-around scholar (and SUPER daughter).
Kristina is a 17 year old who lives with her Mom and sister in Virginia. She is hyper-aware of money as she’s witnessed first-hand her Mom’s struggles, working 2 jobs to support the household. Although she isn’t definite about a career goal, she explains, “I know I want to have a career where I make enough money to not only support myself but also help my Mom and my little sister.”
Kristina is a determined, persistent planner. I first met her in the 9th grade, when she came to me with questions about scholarship opportunities. She chose high school classes with an eye to the future. As of now, she’s been accepted to EVERY SINGLE university she’s applied to and has scholarship awards of up to $25,000 with more to come, I’m sure.
4. The next astrophysicist.
Holly is a 19 year old freshman living in Massachusetts who I first met three years ago. She loves the theater, science, art, music, writing and math. Right now, she is majoring in astrophysics with a minor in theater. Although not sure where those studies will take her, “I want to experience ALL that life has to offer.”
Holly dreams of finding the next solar system and having her screenplay make it to Broadway. Recently she called me about the murders at the church in Charleston, South Carolina. “I just don’t understand why someone can hate someone else just because of the color of their skin. Wait till our generation is in charge. We don’t see skin color.” I have witnessed this color blindness in many of her generation and find it to be very hopeful and refreshing.
These 4 young people, I believe, represent the characteristics and qualities of MANY in their generation.
Michelle Rosado, a student at El Paso Community College, recently wrote, “It seems that many people from the older generation have forgotten what it’s like to be us. It seems that they have forgotten what it’s like to be young, filled with ideas and dreams.” I couldn’t agree with her more.