Generation Y, You’re Not That Special
Last week on The Big Breakfast as we had another mind boggling conversation about Generation Y, one message kept coming through over and over again: Who are the parents of these self-entitled, hell-bent-on-self-distraction children? Hold you tongue. I need to go back to early June 2012. The place – a US high school graduation day.
A commencement speech given on that day went viral. It sparked conversation, debates, it was shared, tweeted and re-tweeted and provoked a national debate. Why? Because, Wellesley High teacher David McCullough spoke a harsh truth to a room of high school graduates. He told them “You are not special. You are not exceptional”.
A few extracts from his speech that stood out for me (you can Google the rest):
Yes, you've been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counselled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You've been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You've been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have.
… But do not get the idea you're anything special. Because you're not. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no centre; therefore, you cannot be it.
The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can't ignore. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That's 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonising altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you're leaving it. So think about this: even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you.
As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Get busy, have at it. Don't wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands.
As the speech and it merits and demerits were debated and blogged across America, what was worth reading was the comments and reactions from the very kids who were the target of the speech. The 3.2 million graduating high-school students.
To their credit, they didn’t even flinch at the term “you’re not special”, they were just fine with that. Their comments had one common thread, who’s to blame for that? In unison they pointed fingers at their parents. Allow me to take you through the charges they leveled on their “folks”. Once again I’m quoting – these are not my words. Why would I bother to write something new when Generation Y can be so expressive?
Parents with the best intentions, have made us into what we are today: a generation of spoiled individuals. Yes, I said it. Never before has there been a generation in which, if a student did poorly in school, the parents would blame the teacher, not the student.
How old were we when we were first entrusted to cross a street by ourselves? Or walk to school alone? Or make our own food? It was never the college student's fault that he failed a course, but rather that of the lack of online material, or the size of the lecture itself. It was never because of the pupil's lack of studying that he flunked a math test, but rather because the curriculum or lack of funding, or, or….. that has come to excuse all of our faults. Failure was the product of some external force that we could never possibly control.
Unsurprisingly, all this has led us to become -- without a doubt -- the most vain generation since the invention of the looking glass. Add into this relatively recent influence of social media: For every important update from the Arab Spring, there are 10 people "sharing" what they just ate at the mall. For every announcement from the Occupy camp, there are 20 people posting their innermost banalities: "I'm hungry!" "I love summer!" or "Shopping makes me so tired!"
When one spends hours looking at oneself, and brings a camera to every single outing, we inevitably become more obsessed with ourselves; and vanity is the first stepping stone to entitlement. So after being told we are all superstars -- after we have checked our Twitter feed one last time before leaving the house -- what do we do when we come face to face with an indifferent, cold economy that could not care less about our dreams?
Yes, we are an entitled generation -- and we were brought up to be so. Before they begin insulting us, our parents might examine their own culpability in leading and nurturing us to this ugly point of safety and false expectations.
In conclusion, one young man says, “… So maybe it is time for my generation to grasp a lesson many of us did not learn growing up -- which is to take responsibility for our own lives and the world as we find it. Maybe it's time to become the solution -- rather than looking for where to place the blame for the problem. If we want to fix something, we have to start by admitting something is wrong with us in the first place, even if we can't say it in 140 characters or less.
Generation Y – over to you – but remember, you're not special, because everyone is. Make for yourselves extraordinary lives. Be a cut above the rest. Sadly, so far, a lot (not everything) of what you’ve been fed is a lie.