“We may not be perfect, but we’re responding to something that was brought upon us,” says Jack Weinstein, 14, a freshman at The Branson School in Ross, Calif.
On a hot Las Vegas night last July 20, 16-year-old Colin Janison was cooling off at a midnight movie when his cellphone suddenly lit up. His eyes left the celluloid scene — Christian Bale wreaking havoc in The Dark Knight Rises — to read a message that seemed to make no sense. At a similar screening 600 miles east in Aurora, Colo., 12 people had just been shot dead and 58 lay wounded.
“It’s hard growing up with all this violence that seems to be happening all the time, in public and at school,” says Janison, a junior at Palo Verde High School who spent the rest of that fated night with an eye on the exits. “But most people my age, we say it’s terrible, we mourn on the day, and we move on. Because we have to. I think it pushes us to be the best we can be, so we can make a difference for the future.”
Every generation has its hardships, societal stigmata that mark the child, influence the adult and shape a nation. In the 1950s, students who practiced ducking under desks to cover from the fallout of a Soviet nuclear bomb helped usher in the live-for-today hippie movement. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, teens facing the constant specter of the Vietnam draft grew into Boomers intent on making the world their financial and cultural oyster.
Although today’s young adults have been spared the anxiety produced by the Cold War and conscription, their fears are tied to a parade of events — beginning with 9/11 — whose horror and often sheer randomness have notched new lows on our historical totem pole. To name just a few, they include the ongoing fallout at home of wars in the Middle East, an economic collapse, Hurricane Katrina and, most recently, the shooting in Newtown, Conn. President Obama noted as much in his inaugural address last week, hailing a generation “tested by crises that steeled our resolve and proved our resilience.”
But if those grim markers are the proverbial bad news, this group’s mettle is the good. Conversations with kids in the last cohort of the Millennial Generation — also known as Gen Y and born between 1982 and 2000 — reveal a defiant determination that bodes well for the future. They include a Louisiana hunter who frowns on gun control, an African-American in Tennessee who thinks the Obama administration is too liberal on social issues, and a Florida video-game enthusiast who doesn’t want a hobby enjoyed by millions blamed for violent acts perpetrated by the few.
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