One Millennial's Take on the New Generational Divide

Friends hanging out in the back of a car.
Friends hanging out in the back of a car.

Earlier this week, MTV baptized the post-Millennial generation "The Founders" -- or, more correctly, MTV had the generation baptize itself. Through a nationwide survey, anyone born after December 2000 was invited to suggest and choose from names including the Navigators, the Builders, and the Bridge Generation. The whole affair left me feeling... pretty strange.

It wasn't an entirely unfamiliar feeling. I've detected hints of it in places like the DPS, sweating in line at hour four with still no license. I've felt it in the college registrar's office after submitting my major declaration form. The feeling tints the memory of my first pair of heels -- clumsy patent leather things I needed for debate tournaments in high school -- as well as the day I signed, in clumsy cursive, the back of my first credit card.

However, the feeling had never been more acute than when the Founders were given their name. I felt not 20 years old, but 20 years old.

It's common for my friends and me to joke about how we aren't as Insta-savvy as "the kids nowadays," but what the naming of the Founders does is solidify the fact that we aren't the kids nowadays. The Founders are a different creature. The screeches of dial-up don't exist in their memory. The only world they have known is the post-9/11 world, always within seven minutes of midnight on the Doomsday Clock. (In 2015, we're sitting pretty at 11:57 pm.) Founders are "risk-averse, team-oriented, well-behaved," as per generational theorist Nick Howe. They're realists who want to collaborate and "found" a better society than the one they inherited. Howe calls them the "endpoint of where Millennials were going."

Where is it that Millennials were going, and why didn't we make it?

The infamous 2013 TIME cover labeling us the "Me Me Me Generation" sparked debate about whether we were entitled, bent on a Snapchat shortcut to success. The term "boomerang" generation, suggesting we went out into the world only to fling ourselves straight back into our parents' basements, was meant to capture our laziness. We dream well after our heads leave their pillows in the morning, and we do little work to make our dreams reality. Songster-turned-activist Sir Bob Geldof ordered us to "forget tweeting... about bullshit" and take responsibility for our world, where people of our age group are killing innocents.

I don't know, Sir Bob, but not a day passes when my Facebook feed isn't inundated with news of my Millennial peers combating instances of systemic racism, sexism, and intolerance in their lives - hardly bullshit.

More than Gen X, much more so than Baby Boomers, Millennials rank contributing to society among their most important life goals. Over 84 percent of Millennials donated to charity last year, and 70 percent volunteered. Even when we lack certainty in our own futures, we know we have a certain responsibility to the future of the world. I think about a friend who, upset with the atmosphere of intolerance against Muslim Americans, organized a photo campaign on campus in solidarity of Muslim students, reaching even the university president. I think about another friend who, in between the stress of midterm exams and six-hour dance rehearsals, organized a vigil for last month's attacks in Paris and Beirut.

Apathetic dreamers? They're empathetic doers.

Millennials didn't make it to where we were going... yet. Despite the tug of wistfulness we might feel at the DPS or the registrar's, or when we read about the "kids nowadays," the fact is: we're not old yet. The oldest of us are still too young to run for president. Our cumulative impact on the world is to be determined, our greatest achievements (and missteps) to be announced. It's terrifying and stimulating all at once, like following 2016 presidential politics or waiting for a text back.

I am hopeful. Vonnegut, my lord and savior, is said to have said, "True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country." Would it be blasphemous for me to respectfully disagree? I look forward with real excitement to watching my peers kick off campaigns and kiss babies, discover novel treatment options for cancer, and invent culinary oddities that top even the cronut. Same goes for the Founders. The first generation to name itself, let's see what else they'll want to do. Then, let us older folk give them all that they need in order to do it.