|Our kids onstage at Carnegie Hall|
Take it from me: if this group of kids is any indication, the next generation kicks our generation's ass. They are disciplined: they didn't get to Carnegie Hall by accident. They are smart: one kid estimated the height of the Empire State Building as we stood at the top, almost to the foot; when they learned my husband was a physicist they peppered him with science questions all the way back to the hotel. They are polite: I heard nothing but pleases and thank-yous the whole five days, and each chaperone received a sweet thank-you note at the end. They are kind: I heard no sniping, witnessed no catty behavior, had to do no reprimanding. We sat with them at restaurants, moved with them through long lines, even navigated the subway at rush hour; they were attentive and obedient. But not too obedient ... if someone had a better idea about how to get from place to place (and often they did), they spoke up. They were totally on top of things. After about day two, I felt superfluous.
|Flash mob, Grand Army Plaza|
Of course, there are some negative generalities about Millennials, too. Some studies indicate they're more narcissistic than previous generations, and they certainly seem a little slower to leave the nest. That latter point is likely a sensible response to our rocky economy and the surging cost of college. When I was 18, it was a given you would leave home and go off to college—the farther away, the better. Now most of my daughter's graduating friends are staying home and attending university in the same city. It seemed odd to me at first, but when I think about how much money they're saving (they will have little to no student debt), it makes perfect sense.
What really marks this next generation, to me, is their philanthropic spirit. A friend's daughter attends this high school in Dallas, where the graduating seniors opted to organize a "senior gift" in place of a senior prank. The kids raised thousands of dollars to help another student, whose family has been struggling financially since the dad was diagnosed with cancer. The seniors are hoping they have started a trend, and that classes that follow theirs will also opt for organized kindness over a destructive prank. Typical Millennials.
|Haylee Harden receives Centennial High's "Senior Gift"|
Some philanthropist teens are also entrepreneurs and inventors. This Dutch teenager has invented a device that might clean up our polluted oceans. We have 20 billion tons of plastic in our oceans, much of which ends up in the bellies of sea life, killing millions of animals directly and weakening even more indirectly. Boyan Slat put his college plans on hold temporarily to dedicate himself to seeing his ocean cleanup project launched. His invention was awarded Best Technical Design by Delft University of Technology. Slat is only 19. Kids these days, I tell you.
I asked my daughter what she thinks about her own generation. "Well, there are plenty of stupid people in every generation, including mine," she said. "But it seems like the best kids keep getting better and better. With each generation, the worldview expands more. More is expected from top students. It never used to be expected that top students would spend lots of time volunteering in the community, now it's standard." Now if you want to go to Harvard or MIT, she said, it's practically a given you'll have traveled abroad with some sort of international aid program, or in some other way gone above and beyond. Grades, too, must be well beyond the 4.0 in order to get into a top college. Expectations are simply higher. So it's not so much that her generation is better across the board, but the best and brightest keep getting better and brighter. And that's a hopeful thing. We'll need them.