Photos and Interviews by Jana Life
Millennials — those of us who were born between the years of 1983 and 1995 — have surpassed the baby boomers as America’s largest living generation. We are starting careers and families, finishing school and entering the years we have coined for so long as ‘the real world.’ But what does the ‘real world’ think about us, and what do we think about ourselves?
As a generation, we emerged from the shadow of our baby boomer predecessors, who began to define us by our selfies, our tweets and our celebrities. Whether or not we are a self-fulfilling prophecy, or if this ever widening gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is self-induced, will always remain a mystery. But it cannot be denied that we are a generation of unprecedented change and impact.
With wide eyes and little understanding, we watched the war on terrorism be born into a rapidly evolving society. Social media is a staple of our everyday lives, and we can’t fathom the idea of not going to college. In some ways, it feels like our identity was chosen before we had time to prove ourselves worthy, and those who chose it are now waiting—waiting to see if we live up to this expectation that has been set for us.
Halle Detweiler just wants millennials to realize their potential. While going through recruitment her freshman year, Detweiler never imagined she would someday become the chapter president of her sorority, Alpha Xi Delta. Now a junior in the fashion merchandising program, Detweiler just wants to make a difference in the lives of girls around her.
“I want to be that person motivating them,” she says.
Detweiler would categorize the millennial generation as educated, creative and motivated, but she feels not everyone sees it that way.
“[Baby boomers] don’t expect much out of us,” Detweiler says. “You are always going to be more successful than the previous generation, and I feel like people don’t think that is going to happen anymore. I feel like I need to prove that I am actually hard working, and I know what I’m doing and that I am not incompetent. We as a generation get talked down to a lot.”
She sees her generation as a mixed bag—teeming with diversity and, in her own words, “unapologetically themselves,” while at the same time, limiting their own potential.
“A lot of kids our age are just handed everything and don’t work for stuff,” Detweiler says. “It makes me frustrated because there are so many people who are fully capable and have that talent, and they’re wasting it.”
Despite this, Detweiler has hope.
“I think we are a really solid generation that is making a difference throughout the whole world,” she says.
Vince Giles has been working with the millennial generation for 15 years now as an adviser for Kent State. Generation Xers were born sometime between 1960 and 1980, and Giles falls under this generation at age 47. Working every day with the millennial generation has given him hope for the future.
“I’m cool with millennials running things for a while,” Giles says. “They’ll do a better job than previous generations did, I hope.”
He noted that the biggest difference between millennials and the rest of the world is centered around the social progress that has been underway in recent history.
“The walls are not as clearly defined,” Giles, a part-time D, says. “It’s so much more fluidity of identity. It’s so much more fluidity of gender roles. Racially, whereas before [with] my generation, I still have people that will say things like ‘white music,’ or ‘black music,’ I don’t know if millennials still have that.”
If Giles could give a piece of advice to the millennial generation, it would be to learn patience. In Giles’ opinion, millennials are more prone to stress and anxiety than previous generations when life doesn’t go exactly the way they planned.
“[Patience] is counter-intuitive to so much of what so many millennials are oriented for,” he says. “Some anxiety can be traced to trying to manage something that hasn’t yet happened, and maybe to a lesser degree, something that has already happened. But it’s rarely in the now.”
Matt Stouffer has lived a lot of life in a short 22 years—likely more than most millennials his age. After working for his father’s real estate agency, Stouffer Real Estate, he decided to get his real estate license at 19 and started building his own portfolio a year later. Aside from working full time as an agent, Stouffer is pursuing a degree in business management at the University of Akron and also got married a few months ago.
Work ethic is something that is important to Stouffer, and he sees so many fellow millennials who aren’t willing to put in the effort required them to reach their goals. Stouffer says most millennials don’t want to start at the bottom of the totem pole and work their way up, but would rather get their dream job straight out.
“You go to work from 9-5,” he says. “You work hard. You do your job, and it’s behind a desk a lot of the time or it’s not something super enjoyable, but you do it because that’s where you start. You gain experience. You gain knowledge.”
Stouffer notes that this may stem from the millennials’ needs for recognition and status in society.
“I think the defining factor of a millennial would be that they want to be important,” Stouffer says. “They want to be remembered for something. They want to feel important, and they actually want to be important, but they don’t know how… They’re kinda aimless.”
Part of this is to blame on society’s view on higher education today. Stouffer says millennials are taught that they need a piece of paper from a university or college to prove their worth, and, for him, that’s a huge problem. Stouffer believes the world “needs more electricians, not philosophers,” and the idea that higher education is necessary to be successful is a lie.
As a Christian, Stouffer’s greatest advice to his generation would be: “Go love people that need loved. Go give your life to the oppressed. You want to do something important? Love people well. Go after the helpless. Go after the slavery in the world. Go after the oppressed, and go help them.”
“I am so hopeful,” says Laura Arnold, a nontraditional student, born at the tail end of the baby boomer generation, about millennials. “Just coming back to school has been so eye-opening, and I am inspired to death by you guys. You are doing so much. I don’t know how you do it all. I wasn’t where you guys are at your age. I would have been having too much fun!”
After raising two twin boys and watching them move to California to pursue their dream of acting in Los Angeles, Arnold decided it was her turn. She returned to school to finish her b bachelor’s degree in communication studies and believes it was the best thing she ever did.
Going to college with millennials, interacting with them every day in school clubs and spending time with them in class has given Arnold a respect for this generation that inspires feelings of hope and admiration.
“You guys have included me and been so kind,” she says. “It’s going to be very sad to leave.”
Arnold will be graduating this spring and moving to California with her sons. She feels inspired by their bravery, which is something she sees in a lot of millennials. She speaks fondly of the ambition and social awareness millennials possess.
“You guys are the future,” she says. “I am rooting for you.”
Though Arnold says she would much rather hang out with millennials than someone of her own generation, she does recognize one key difference between the millennial generation and generations before them: technology.
“You guys have everything in the palm of your hand,” Arnold says. “You can Google anything. You just know so much more than we did.”
However, she notes that this creates a downfall for the millennial generation as well because of the attachment they have to technology, cell phones in particular.
“You can’t form a relationship and get a bond with a customer or a client without them hearing your voice,” she says.
Samy Bhatt has had the unique privilege of experiencing his generation in two different cultures. Growing up in India and moving to the United States in 2015 has given him incredible insight into these two different cultures.
“Millennials in India, we don’t really worry about our future that much, which is a bad thing in one way and a good thing in another way,” he says. “[It is a] bad thing because you are immature. If you don’t worry, you won’t progress. [The] good thing is you won’t have stress on you, which is good for your health.”
Bhatt says, although there are many differences between the two cultures, one thing is common among both.
“We give up easily if we don’t have any motivation for [something], but once we have the motivation, we are unable to stop,” he says.
This resilience was demonstrated in Bhatt’s own life when he came to the United States. He moved overseas alone and worked in California before moving to Ohio to attend school. Getting a job and even living alone before the age of 25 is uncommon in India, and Bhatt had to adjust.
“It was a new experience,” he recalls. “I adapted to it quickly. I don’t know how. It was a hard time, but I did it.”
Bhatt’s story is far from typical, further proving the diversity and depth this generation embodies.
“I don’t think there is a [millennial] mold or anything because in our generation, we can be anything we want,” he says.