Jeff Mullin is a favorite writer at my local newspaper. His thoughts on today’s college freshmen hit home since we have one in our family this year. I’d like to share his outlook on “The world according to today’s college freshmen”.
August 23, 2011
Enid News and Eagle
ENID — Each generation has its own unique cultural touchstones — people, places and events that bind people of that age group together.
People of a certain vintage point to the Jazz Age, flappers, bathtub gin, the Crash of ’29 and the Great Depression. For another group, it was Pearl Harbor, Frank Sinatra, “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” rationing and VE Day.
Still others can relate to the 39th Parallel, Buddy Holly, Sputnik and James Dean, while those of a more recent minting have vivid memories of Duck and Cover, Dealey Plaza, Kent State, the Beatles and the Summer of Love.
Of course, each generation’s cultural touchstones might be a unifying point for people of one age group, but they also serve to illustrate the vast chasm that exists between themselves and those of younger generations.
Take, for example, the group of scrubbed-faced, eager young people who have just entered their freshman year of college. A record 4,000 of them began the school year Monday at the University of Oklahoma, while Oklahoma State welcomed 3,900.
Today’s college freshmen, for instance, have never called anyone using a rotary dial telephone.
They haven’t, that is, according to the annual College Mindset List compiled by Beloit College of Wisconsin.
This year’s crop of freshmen, who average 18 years of age, weren’t alive when George H.W. Bush was president. Say “Read my lips, no new taxes” to college freshmen and they will look at you blankly. They know Bush 41 only as the father of Bush 43, George W. And Jimmy Carter? He’s the nice old fellow who travels the world making sure elections are fair and overseeing disaster relief efforts. Go so far as to mention LBJ to one of today’s freshmen and they’ll assume you mean Miami Heat star LeBron James.
They have no idea why O.J. Simpson is famous, except for the fact he is always in trouble with the law.
They have grown up with the Internet, bike helmets, women Supreme Court justices, Amazon (the Web retailer, not the South American river), Chicken Soup for the Soul, the Food Channel, electric cars, charter schools and Martin Luther King Day. They never sat on a Sears catalog to make them taller at the dinner table.
Remember the movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” in which Matthew Broderick’s wise guy high schooler decides to skip school for the day? For this year’s freshmen, Bueller could be their dad.
This year’s freshmen didn’t grow up wanting to Be Like Mike. They were 10 when Michael Jordan retired for good in 2003. And today’s freshmen think Arnold Palmer is simply a drink combining iced tea and lemonade.
In their lifetimes, fake Christmas trees have always outsold real ones, the phrase “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” has always been in use, grown-ups have always argued about health care and taken baby aspirin for their hearts and George Stephanopolus has always worked on television rather than in the White House.
For these young people, “Cheers” has always been in reruns, nurses have always been in short supply, couples have always broken up via texting or Facebook, and the only significant labor disputes they have experienced have come in professional sports.
There are always differences between people of various generations. I came along after World War II, have always lived in a home with indoor plumbing and television, remember when Hawaii and Alaska weren’t states and grew up watching “Captain Kangaroo” and idolizing Mickey Mantle.
In the end, those things really aren’t important. Each generation has its own cultural touchstones and experiences, but we are bound together by our shared history.
Today’s college freshmen may have been just 8 years old, but I’ll bet they can tell you where they were and what they were doing on Sept. 11, 2001, just as those of previous generations have vivid memories of Nov. 22, 1963, and Dec. 7, 1941.
Next time you have a family gathering, turn off the TV and computer, confiscate the smartphones and laptops and start telling stories. Tell this year’s college freshmen about poodle skirts, Nehru jackets, leisure suits, Camelot, Joan Baez, troll dolls, “The Peter Principle,” ration books, Woody Herman, Dr. Spock, zoot suits, Howdy Doody, “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” streaking, Skylab, Carl Sagan, Valley Girls, Milli Vanilli, hobo jungles and Ogden Nash.
And they can tell you about the things that are important to them. When you strip away all the cultural stuff, the things that are really important to them are likely the same as those cited by their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
They want to be loved, they want to pursue their dreams, they want to change the world, they want to be successful, they want to be respected, they want to do the right thing, they want to leave things better than they found them.
Which is just a long way of saying they want to be happy.
And that desire binds us all, no matter our age or cultural experience, whether we grew up listening to “The Shadow” on the huge radio in the corner of the living room or watching “The Shadow” on a smartphone.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.