The New Rebels
By Brit McGinnis
On July 18, I officially became 21 years old. In the eyes of the law, I was now an adult. I could marry anyone without permission, gamble, be tried as an adult under the law, and could also drink alcohol without a parent basically babysitting my behavior. Naturally, people expected me to gamble away my entire life savings, drink an obscene amount of Eugene’s famous handcrafted beers, and wake up the next morning with a (second) tattoo.
But I did no such thing. Sure, I visited a few bars with my boyfriend. But we ended up watching Mad Men on my couch, and he went back home to go to bed at 10 p.m.. He had work in seven hours from then, and I had class in nine.
Probably by a lot of accounts, that was a pretty lame 21st birthday. It’s summer! I should be out in the sun, celebrating the sunny weather, instead of being taking classes in the summer and hardly ever going out.
But I’m not alone among people my age. For a lot of people in their 20s in Oregon, life is beginning to slow down. There’s less drinking on porches in the summer, more studying for summer classes in the library. More working overtime, less wild partying.
Why? This isn’t because we’re a state full of dorks, necessarily. Students are looking at future work opportunities now, so they will be able to transition into full-time employment after graduation. Many of my friends have full-time jobs already, in the midst of going to school.
There’s something profound about young people acting more responsible because they are afraid of what will happen when they reach the “real world.” And I see this attitude in more places than just Oregon.
People who are now in their 20s were young children when the Twin Towers were attacked. We heard adults around us call each other horrible names more and more often whenever elections came along. We saw how differently people with college degrees were treated in this country, as opposed to people who were not able to afford a college education. And we all witnessed the arrival of the Great Recession.
We young folk began to grow nervous. What kind of world were we about to inherit? According to a study conducted by the the Pew Research Center last year, 45 percent of all adults surveyed said that they thought their children’s standard of living would either be worse or stay the same than how it was for them in 2010. Ouch.
The youth of Eugene were afraid of a substandard future, so they acted accordingly. Student-run publications kept close tabs on tuition rates for students so that we would know exactly how much money we would need to put aside for the future. We held “love-ins” to provide a public response to homophobic remarks made in editorials to the newspaper. Select groups of young people journeyed to the capital to protest for lower tuition rates for Oregon students.
But perhaps the most important thing of all young people did in Oregon have kept our heads in our books. We want a more secure future than the present that we’re living in, and we’re prepared to work for it. In a way, the young people of Eugene are rebelling against our parents just like many generations of youth before. We’re being rebellious by not being outrageous. For Millennials, rebellion is stability.
So my boyfriend and I weren’t “lame” by being low-key the night I turned 21. We were being considerate of our respective futures, and of each other’s. And by not being extravagant in our celebration, we were helping the world of tomorrow become a much more productive place to live. I’d drink to that any day.
We Want to Know:
- How did you spend your 21st birthday?
- Is this how you see 20-somethings in our country?
Start the discussion below in the comment section!