Students who graduated from high school this year were born in 1997 or 1998. They have no memory of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. They always have had the Internet.
Teens of this age do not know how to operate a rotary phone and don’t know what LP stands for. They’re unfamiliar with the Lindy Hop and the Twist and have no idea what a dance card is. They’ve never attended a Latin Mass and almost certainly do not know anyone who has become a priest or religious.
AIDS always has been part of their lives.
Today’s graduating seniors did not grow up with “I Love Lucy” or “The Ed Sullivan Show.” They’re unfamiliar with Elizabeth Taylor, Spencer Tracy and Humphrey Bogart. They don’t know Jackie Robinson, Dorothy Hamill, Billy Graham or Jesse Owens.
These teens are likely to have a female doctor, a male nurse and foreign-born friends. By age 4, they were capable of teaching their grandparents how to use a computer.
Kids graduating from high school today have grown up with a peanut-free zone in the cafeteria and gluten-free friends. They attended school with children who were on the autism spectrum, intellectually and physically disabled, and non-English speaking. Most have done extensive volunteer work during their teen years.
To today’s graduating high school student, the Dodgers have always been in Los Angeles, abortion has always been legal and the Berlin Wall has always been down. They have never known whites-only schools. They would not dream of relegating anyone to the back of the bus.
Other than through history class, these teens are unfamiliar with the Bay of Pigs, Victory Gardens and air raid sirens. They have no idea who Walter Cronkite was; to them, the most trusted person in America is likely to be Peyton Manning or Oprah Winfrey. They cannot imagine dancing in the streets when a war ends.
These youths have never had the experience of nervously calling a girl to ask her on a date, only to have her father answer the phone.
Cursive writing is an enigma to them. They do not know how to diagram a sentence. Statistically speaking, they spend more time on their cell phones than in school. Their communications are instantaneous.
As they were growing up, safety concerns prevented many of today’s teens from roaming the neighborhood freely. Their grandmother did not live next door and cousins lived too far away to gather for Sunday dinner. The idea of homemade soup is quaint.
These kids grew up in a world without tuberculosis, whooping cough and diphtheria. Infant car seats were universal. They always wear seat belts. Sunscreen is part of life.
Today’s high school graduates do not accept that it is a man’s prerogative to beat his wife, nor that people should “stick to their own kind.” They are likely to have friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Asian and African-American and of all manner of political persuasions.
In contrast, people in their grandparents’ generation grew up in a world of rationing, Meatless Mondays and patriotic fervor. Instead of television, they gathered around the family radio for news and entertainment. If they got into trouble at school, they’d be in more trouble when they got home. They had daily chores and family dinners. They went out to play after school and didn’t come home until dark. They wrote letters and mailed them with a stamp.
These grandparents grew up in a world where women’s career choices were limited to the secretarial, teaching and nursing fields – and even then, only if the woman was white and able-bodied. People of color typically held service jobs, did not own cars and had little hope of earning more than a subsistence wage. They were on the receiving end of blistering racial cruelty, from which there was little escape.
People with handicaps found the world inhospitable. There were no ramps or parking spaces for the handicapped, and no computers for the blind. Many were barred from attending public school.
If a woman in that era was being beaten at home, she had no legal recourse. Authorities told her to go home and submit to her husband.
This generation of Americans attended worship services. They valued honor and honesty, and they did not expect the government to take care of them. When their country needed them, they served.
In their era, they knew what it meant to work hard and to sacrifice. Manual labor was considered respectable work. Neighbor took care of neighbor. It was not uncommon for someone to live in the same house his or her entire life.
Each generation has extraordinary strengths and frightening weaknesses. What binds us together is that each of us, regardless of generation (or anything else), is made in the image and likeness of God.
And all that God made was good.
Regina Cram lives in Glastonbury and is a freelance writer. She is the author of Do Bad Guys Wear Socks? Living the Gospel in Everyday Life.