My youth group was in charge of leading the church service this morning and I offered to be the main speaker because I never shut up anyway and I figured it'd be a good opportunity to talk about some things I consider important. So that's why this is written as if I'm speaking to a congregation.
So I'd like to start this out by quickly introducing myself to the members of this congregation who don't recognize me or know me very well. My name is Eva [insert last name]. I am a senior at West High School and have been heavily involved with this church's youth group for the past four years. I'm a percussionist, a member of the high school marching band, and I still enjoy playing Pokemon video games and watching Spider-Man cartoons. And my 18th birthday is tomorrow.
But, honestly, I get a pretty weird feeling when I think about my birthday this year.
I'm not saying it's a bad thing because it's definitely exciting - I've made it another 365 days, people praise me just for existing, I get to eat cake, open a few presents.
And while those things are fun and exciting, I'm also a little scared. I don't feel old enough to be an adult - a real, official, legal adult. It just doesn't seem real. And not in one of those "It's so good and so exciting that I'm in disbelief because of just how great it is" ways. It's more of a "Oh God, I'm a legal adult and I'm graduating high school and I have to pay for college next year and live on my own for the first time and then I'll have to graduate from college and find a real job even though there are adults today who have professional degrees and are still unemployed or working at basic entry-level positions and I probably won't be able to buy a house when I'm older and I don't have a car and I barely know how to make myself dinner and I just really, really, really want to hang out with my friends and chill without having anyone mention the words 'college' or 'plans for the future' to me ever again."
And in some ways, I believe I'm incredibly lucky to have been born in 1997 because coming of age in 2015 has definitely had some perks, but sometimes it just seems like a pain. Of course, every generation is going to have problems and misunderstandings with people who are older than them, but with the technological and social and global changes that have happened in the past 20+ years, I just think that it's incredibly hard for a lot of older people to even understand where my generation, the millennial generation, is even coming from half the time.
Everyone I know has a cell phone and has always had a cell phone, for one thing. I knew how to use Google when I was in the 1st grade and I knew how to upload YouTube videos by the age of 11. My best friend in middle school was a girl named Alexys who lives in Toronto, Canada, and we're still friends and communicate frequently today. I met her online when I was 12. I've never met her in person.
I've always been stressed out about college. Or rather, I've always been stressed out about paying for college. When you need a college degree to get a job these days, it feels like there are no other options - go to college or live out your life unhappy and struggling to find decent work. That's what we've been taught since elementary school. But how can we be happy about attending college when it costs $9,410 a year if you're in-state or $23,893 a year if you're out-of-state or at least $32,405 if you go to a private college and the average student debt for the class of 2016 is expected to be higher than $30,867?
I was 11 when the 2008 recession happened. Sometimes it's hard for me to understand the current unemployment rates and how low they actually are because when I think about my childhood, no one had jobs and all the stores were closing down.
The United States has been in war for practically my entire life. George W. Bush is the first president I can remember being in office and ignorance towards Islam is something I've had to grow up constantly hearing. And I don't remember what the world was like before 9/11. And I don't remember a world without mass shootings.
My heart goes out to all those who were affected in Paris these past few days but it didn't shock me at all. It was just another Friday night. And that almost makes it worse.
While I was writing this, I looked up things about the millennial generation just to brainstorm and there were a few good things written about us but there were also quite a few negative things. A few generational theories hypothesize that we are the next Me Generation, entitled, shallow, and narcissistic.
But I don't think that's true. I think that we could be seen as entitled and shallow and narcissistic when $30,000 of student debt and mass shootings and the War on Terror are normal. Because the adults who are watching us grow up, who are parenting us, didn't grow up in 2015. To them, it may seem entitled that a majority of my generation expects to go to college. But is it a feeling of entitlement if we expect to come out of it with $30,000 of student debt? Are we entitled because we've reluctantly accepted that we need a college degree to be considered "successful" in modern America? Because when you grow up seeing anyone from high school drop-outs to adults with professional degrees unemployed because of a recession, it's hard to feel entitled to a job. It's hard to even expect to have a job.
And are we narcissistic because we have front-facing cameras and selfies and social media? I honestly don't know where the idea that millennials are narcissistic even comes from. How are we a self-centered generation when we are the ones primarily leading and organizing the Black Lives Matter movement? My generation spends so much time educating each other on social justice issues like racial inequality, financial inequality, or transgender rights, mental health rights, and reproductive rights - just to name a few - that I honestly believe we can make a huge difference in the world.
So I don't think we're entitled. And I definitely don't think we're narcissistic. I think we've grown up in an age of technology that other people just don't understand. I think that we're not understood because others don't realize that we've been worrying about college debt since the 3rd grade. I think so many huge economic and global events have happened in our short lifetimes that the cultural and social climate we've grown up in is completely unrecognizable to most people in more ways than they could ever imagine.
So, with all of this in mind, tomorrow is my 18th birthday.