Confession: I am a millennial and I do not have all the answers, would never argue that I do, and as I always say, our work is never done. However, we are getting a bad rap. There is a need to problematize our attitude around social issues and the ways technology and social media have muddled our potentially impactful work. We can be seen as hashtagvocates, self-involved and uninspired. In our college years, we have apparently been festering in large pockets of seemingly radical liberalism and critical thought that make us unable to hear and engage with differing opinions and unpopular views. Knowing that we are beginning to enter the "real world", our predecessors worry that our college campus culture of authoritative push back will make us useless in the world.
This is not a new concept though. Youth culture, in its many manifestations, has always been a culture of resistance. Realizing we are growing into autonomous beings has both inspired youth for decades to take control of their images and perceptions while simultaneously inviting vehement disgust from elders. What seems to be ignored is the cyclical nature of this debate and conversation. In this respect we, as millennials need to reimagine our present status, see the successful work of those who came before and actively reframe this conversation for our little brothers and sisters and family in the come-up. Most importantly we need to use our critical and self-expressive work to produce change outside our simply our personal interests.
In a New York Times opinion post, Michael S. Roth writes, "The combination of resistance to influence... is a sure sign of one's ability to negotiate the politics of learning on campus. But this ability will not take you very far beyond the university." While that speaks to our potential stubbornness, what does is say about the world into which we are being thrust? Is the world we are going into as impenetrable and static as we are being painted? We may get a lot of things wrong, but are they wrong because they are radical? If our push back to authority is calling it oppressive and destructive, are we suppose to grin and bear it? There is no question that our 97 pages thesis on anti-racist work or blog posts on Beyoncé's feminism or twitter rants on appropriation only do so much, but again, is that on us? So much activism on campus and critical thought from our generation is reactionary to the world we were born into. Why empower us with education only to have us recreate what we already know? This also assumes that our critical work is even appreciated in the spaces we find ourselves on currently.
Consider the protests that have surrounded recent commencements, from Attorney General Eric Holder to most recently former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers. The biggest backlash to these acts was that students were unable to hear opposing views to their own. In her excellent column, senior Democratic strategist, Donna Brazile concludes her critique of this movement by asking, "If students haven't heard it after four years, is the commencement speech the place to start?" It could be, but that assumes that our time on campus has been swimming in a sea of liberal bleeding heart values.
As a soon to be graduate of Tufts, I know we have a reputation of being a social justice, globally active, civilly engaged bunch, but that's a moniker to erase the injustice and inequality on this campus. Saying that we are a too conscious for the real world is a particular kind of silencing. The activist work on campus is vilified, mocked, marginalized and often silenced. Without national coverage, our critical nature is not fostered and rarely empowered. To "negotiate the politics of learning on campus," means, in my opinion, to learn when and when not to resist. People use language of "calling out" and "taking down" to be read as conscious and critical but I fear many will go into the real world, realizing its not built for such thought, and succumb to established ways of thinking. This ability to give up critique is luxury, and many are not able to do so.
Demanding we attend the best schools and be the brightest students comes at a cost. The every child is special and wonderful ideology that was instilled in us is now coming back to bite. I can offer you this: too many of us will grow out of it. Too many will vie for established understandings of cultural capital and power and give up their critical thought. Of the many critiques of my generation, I believe we are self-interested. But elders, you instilled that in us a want to fit-in so no matter how self-involved we are, many will come crawling back.
I want to empower millennials, especially those of us graduating this year, to learn how to navigate the real world without losing your critical mind. If anything, this discourse around us has proven the real world is scary. It is scary not for the bills we have to pay, the families we may come to create, the jobs we must execute, but because we are entering the world where critical thought is not the norm and apparently is not appreciated. In that navigation, stay open to critique, learn compassion immediately, but do not take silencing as a reason to give up. While not everything needs to be taken down, and torn apart, too many things still do for us to give up this work.
This was supposed to be a happy graduation piece, so Congrats to the Class of 2014, I'm honored to know you.