Excuse a little detour from “marketing” today.
Today’s college kids – okay, young adults — inspire lots of opinions. The cosmic thinkers among us fall all over one another trying to label them as “Generation Whatever” and poke and prod their attitudes toward money, their sense of entitlement, their obsession with video games, or whatever else will sell books or garner blog traffic.
Well, I see and talk to quite a few college kids every day. Not from a distance, as a research target. But up close and personal, as individuals just trying to live their lives. And from that vantage point, I’d like to suggest some labels that, although not quite as titillating, are a bit more accurate. At least for most of the ones I know.
1. They’re respectful.
Many of us grew up during a time when it was “in” to be cynical. Older people were there mostly to make fun of, and certainly not to learn from. Being at least a little sarcastic and rebellious was a big part of being “cool.” Well,, near as I can tell, these kids feel no such compulsion. They will generally be very open and sincere with you. They’re pretty comfortable in their own skins, and willing to relate to you as a person, if you do the same in return.
2. They are family-oriented.
Sure, they talk about “spring break” and the great parties they went to last night. But I have also heard them speak, without hesitation and in front of classmates, about how much they look forward to going home, seeing their families, and participating in beloved holiday traditions. Just yesterday, a young lady on the campus radio station singled out the “pickled herring” that only she and her Uncle Ed really liked on the Thanksgiving table. She wasn’t too cool to share her eagerness for that encounter again. Which, to me, is very cool.
3. They’re actually quite sensitive to others.
I’ve seen many instances in which they will help one another, even when they’re not personal friends. And if they have to miss a class most will make a point to tell me why, and that they’re sorry. Not the “save my grade, don’t take away too many points” kind of sorry. But at least a little concerned that their absence will hurt my feelings, or make me think they don’t like the course. Of course I’m happy to believe that they are not “dissing” the course. But I feel even better about the fact that they care that I might think that.
4. They are enthusiastic.
Lots of them are working one or more jobs, taking four or more courses, and working for student organizations. But they make room for more activities when asked — often when it involves campus charity events and other very worthwhile pursuits. Busy adults make excuses. Busy students just make arrangements.
5. They just might surprise you.
I teach courses in advertising and media, and often take an in-class “ratings” survey, designed to help them understand how TV ratings and share information are gathered. In the course of that, we learn the most popular TV shows among students in the class. I have done this at three different universities in recent years. And most of their viewing choices are fairly predictable. But I am always heartened by one show that always manages to finish in the top two or three for each college class–and it might surprise the cynics: Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.
Last week, one student added, openly and honestly, “I cry every time I watch that show.” Did I mention that they can be very sensitive to others?