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January 25, 2014

On the Go: In defense of millennials, the janitorial generation

The Daily Star

---- — Born at some point within the last two decades of the 20th century, millennials are growing up. 

Depending on whom you ask, we are narcissistic, lazy and unrefined. On the flip side, we are over coming incredible odds, pursuing higher education at a higher percentage than any generation before us, and showing more empathy for living creatures. 

Being a millennial myself, I’m probably a little biased as to which side I lean. But if we are all disappointments, we are the most resilient disappointments ever.

First off, I’d like to address the condition of the economy and environment we are inheriting. They’re both crappy. 

Polar bears are drowning and trees are being downed. Gases are being released and resources are being devoured. The dollar is inflating and credit is declining. Loans are growing and jobs are scarce. 

 We aren’t lazy. We are inheriting the mess our elders so kindly left us.

We are trying to pay off our five-figure education without a job because none are available. We are saying no to meat and recycling our bottles because we won’t betray the earth’s trust. 

 In essence we are a janitorial generation. It is our job to sweep up the ruble and construct a new reality. One where in technology and compassion dominate.

As fiery as we are, I believe we are also a generation of compromisers. 

Clearly the older generations have reached a stalemate in the way of political progress. 

Not all millennials condone abortion, but most would protect a woman’s right to choose. And most acknowledge the possible monetary gains of fracking, but aren’t willing to ruin the earth for it. Regulations are necessary but our sprawling bureaucratic oligarchy could stand to go on a diet. 

We don’t all agree, but we’ve grown up surrounded by the sense of exasperation that accompanies close-mindedness. In our case, monkey see, monkey won’t do.

This sense of caution earns us the labels “lazy,” “entitled” and “snobbish.”  We are going to smell every rose and have a nice time doing it. We aren’t going to race into marriages that inevitably crumble or pick the first major we recognize. We are testing the waters and trying things out. 

While it might take us a few more years to marry or graduate, come check on us in a few decades when we still love our spouse and career. The self-control necessary to wait and plan shows enough maturity to heftily outweigh the few years we take for introspection.

Our narcissism and entitlement are misinterpreted. 

 The average model is skimpier than she was before and the average American is larger. 

 We’ve had to fight for every shard of self-acceptance. 

 We’ve second-guessed every consideration of self-love. Some call us narcissists; I’d call us survivors. 

Millennials who can be comfortable in their own skin has won a battle that began before they were born. That’s admirable and rare. In the same way we’ve had to fight for our self-image, we’ve had to fight for our status. 

The Great Recession stunted our naivety and forced us to take control. We got our own jobs and paid for our own gas. We applied for scholarships and agreed to pay interest. While school funds were cut and the one percent jollied, we fought for our niche to succeed. We aren’t entitled. We are proud of our efforts and meet challenges with enthusiasm.

These traits seem oddly familiar. Each generation faces challenges. Each generation is different. Yet our similarities are what bind us together. You went through the Great Depression or the Great Recession. You learned on a type writer or a tablet. We endure these hardships and incorporate new technology. We grow and adapt. 

The repetition of these experiences create a diverse and yet cyclic series of generations. Together we form a national family and make up the American spirit.  

Katherine Ahearn is a junior at Unatego Junior-Senior High School. ‘Teen Talk’ columns can be found at