Granddaughter No. 6 is off to college this month. After visiting several schools outside over the past couple of years, she chose UAF. She is the practical one, reasoning that for the first two years Fairbanks offers what she needs and after she decides on a major she can choose another school if it would be more beneficial.
She has been out and about, spending time in Peru building greenhouses in villages, a month in Washington, D.C., as a senate intern ( I’m Grandma; I get to brag a little!), and various other trips during her school years — so it isn’t the fear of the unknown that is keeping her close to home but an innate common sense (which I’d like to say she gets it from Grandma, but …).
I am from the generation when it was still not uncommon for students to quit school in eighth grade. We were at the tail end of that trend, but I still remember four or five boys who did not return for our freshman year. They were a couple of years overage anyway and school no longer held much of an attraction for them, nor did their parents see any good reason for them to be there.
In my day, kids who quit school (and it was primarily boys) usually had a place to go: dad’s farm, logging with uncle George, or some other family enterprise that kept them occupied until they were 18 and could go into the military, as most did. And as is the case still today, by the time our class graduated, others had dropped out for one reason or another.
When I see those people today they are as happy and successful as those of us who carried on in the expected manner, and more to the point, their kids are productive adults. I am certainly not advocating leaving school after eighth grade or any time before graduation and then, as now, the teachers were forever “preaching” that one needed a high school education to get ahead in the world.
But I do look askance at the notion that every student needs to plan on going to college. Anyone who believes that doesn’t understand how our society operates. Those who graduate Harvard, or Yale, or any of the upper echelon schools would like to believe they run the world, but they have forgotten (or would like to ignore) the first rule of survival: don’t make the janitor mad. Which is to say, the person in the so-called “lesser” job is the one we need most. I’m forever amazed that those workers are the ones paid the least. If, indeed, we were paid on job merit, lots of people would all at once realize their place in the world.
But I digress. Because it is that time of year, and because No. 6 is entering college, I went to the Beloit Mindset web site to see what the differences are this year. After I sifted through the celebrity stuff — did you remember that the McGauhey septuplets were born in 1997 or that Princess Diana was already dead by then — the most interesting things about this college generation’s mindset is that they have never licked a postage stamp, and if you mention “the turn of the century” they don’t think of 1900.
I wondered, if there had been a Beloit Mindset when my class entered college, what it might have found. That class graduated high school in 1957. To them, “The Wizard of Oz” and “Gone With the Wind” were always movies, the AlCan highway had always been there, Pius XII had always been Pope and there had always been a Superman. I’m not sure any of those revelations would have changed the teaching method or style of any of the professors the students that year encountered.
The biggest social change was that Eisenhower was president — a Republican after 20 years of Democrats and the last president to be born in the 1800s (of course we didn’t know that then). We had welcomed “Rock Around the Clock” and Elvis was on the horizon so major social changes were coming but we were a pretty bland group until Viet Nam — and we know the rest.
Kids starting college this fall have lots to think about. Their parents are the end of the Boomers, but primarily the Gen-Xers. Many have been raised by their grandparents and some have raised themselves. They are a sensible bunch and willing to look before they leap. These Millenials are much like our “Silent Generation.” We can only hope that in 50 years (or 60) when they are reminiscing to their grandchildren they lovingly remember being the first generation completely attached to a cell phone and drinking their share of “Natty Light.” Being a “textrovert” can’t be any harder to live down than being the generation that coined the term “mid-life crisis.”
They, too, realize that 80 percent of life is just showing up.
Virginia Walters lives in Kenai. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.