Hope Springs Eternal for Generation Z
When you think about it, young adults have witnessed some tough times in America. One of my earliest memories is waking up for kindergarten one day and walking downstairs to find my father staring at the television, which showed two burning towers and emitted the screeching panic of various news anchors. I may have only been 5 on 9/11, but even a little kid can recognize when an entire country is on edge.
I am a proud member of what is being called “Generation Z”, the collection of people born from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s. We don’t really remember the prosperous Clinton years; our memories begin when America started confronting the demons of “weapons of mass destruction”,“Mission Accomplished”, and other farces that defined the Bush (or should we say Cheney) presidency. I remember the news in the background when I got home from school every day, not really understanding what a “troop surge” meant but vaguely understanding that U.S. soldiers were dying the same way they had in my textbooks. In 2007, most of us were affected by (even if we didn’t really understand) the worst economic recession since the Great one we’d learned about so many times in school.
We grew up, which only allowed us to more deeply understand the tragedies that befell the United States. The ones that truly stand out in my mind are those that gave me nightmares because I became paranoid that the same could happen to me – Virginia Tech, Aurora, and Sandy Hook. I will never forget when my classmates and I huddled around a smartphone for updates in fourth period on December 14, 2012, literally unable to believe what we’d heard from Connecticut.
There has been a lot of misfortune in America over the last 20 years, and we were highly exposed to all of it. We got our news instantly, and had more access to the details of blunder and tragedy than any generation before ours. When you consider how many bloody photos, stories about abject poverty, and obituaries for soldiers that we’ve collectively seen on television and the Internet, you would hardly blame us for being jaded and thinking that the world was a pretty awful place.
This, however, is why Generation Z is special. Despite all that we’ve witnessed and endured, we are one of the most optimistic generations that our country has ever seen. We are fixated on the concept of changing the world. 26.1% of 16- to 19-year-olds are engaged in volunteerism1, and social entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing career paths2. I have personally had the pleasure of meeting hundreds of service-driven young people over the last few years, and the sheer passion and commitment of my peers has been more motivating and inspiring than any other experience in my life. I can personally testify (but more importantly, research proves) that Generation Z is dedicated to creating a country that is better than the one they grew up in.
Who knows how we’ll do it – sustainable farming to provide food for the impoverished, equalizing rights for all races and sexual identifications, finally changing gun laws to end the massacres that are barely newsworthy for being so common – but I have no doubt that America will feel the impact of its most impactful and optimistic generation yet. After all we’ve seen, only 6% of Generation Z is fearful about the future3 – the other 94% of us are ready to get to work.