The Class of 2008…

The following is a brief (though long) summary of the incoming freshman class on college campuses all accross America. I got this idea from Beloit College many years ago, adapted it, and now pass it out to my leaders each year in College Life. The point of this is to not only paint the picture of the next generation that is coming up the pike, but to also show how vastly different they are from the folks who came before them, only a few years prior. Hope you enjoy….

In the coming weeks, a new generation of students will arrive on campuses throughout the country to mark the start of their first year of college. Most of these students were born in the year 1990. Also born that same year: Sean Kingston, Soulja Boy, JoJo, David Archuletta, Microsoft Windows 3.0, The Gillette Sensor razor, the 1st “web page”, Time Warner Television, Universal Studios (Fla.), Seinfeld, Fresh Prince of Bellaire, The Simpsons, Beverly Hills 90210, & Law & Order. Making the headlines that year: The long standing Cold War ends, the USSR is dissolved (allowing the first McDonald’s to open in Moscow), Nelson Mandela is freed from 27 years in a South African prison, “NC-17” officially replaces the “X” rating in theaters, The Hubble Telescope is launched into space, Milli Vanilli gets busted for lip syncing, George Bush Sr. gives the “ok” to begin the 1st Gulf War, James “Buster” Douglas knocks out Mike Tyson (only to later that same year be defeated by Evander Holyfield), Barry Bonds hits his 117th home run, & Shea Sumlin begins the 11th grade. A Gallon of Gas that year hits $1.16 and Stamps top out at .25¢. Top Movies include: Home Alone, Ghost, Dances with Wolves, Pretty Woman, Die Hard II, & Back to The Future III. Top Albums include: Mc Hammer, Wilson Phillips, Roxette, Sinead O’Connor, Bell Biv Devoe, Mariah Carey, & Madonna. Newly formed bands Pearl Jam, En Vogue, Stone Temple Pilots, & 311 also hit the music scene.

For the 7th year now, College Life is distributing this page to our staff and leaders as an indicator of the many ways in which entering 18 year-olds see the world differently from their leaders, professors, and mentors. This page is a reminder that the worldview of today’s new college student is significantly different from the intellectual framework of those students who entered only a few years earlier…

This is a class that was born in the same year that Harvard Law Review Editor, Barack Obama, announced he might run for office some day. For the most part, this generation has only known two Presidents in their lifetime. Humvee’s (minus the artillery) have always been available to the public. They have no idea what it means to “roll down” their car window. Black Monday is as significant to them as the Great Depression. They have only known “one” Germany in their lifetime. Smoking has never been permitted on U.S. airlines, “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” means nothing to them. Peeps are not candy- they are friends. Spam is in an e-mail, not in a can. They have never needed to distinguish between the St. Louis Cardinals baseball and football teams. Bottled water has always been available to them in Coke machines.. Rap music has always been mainstream. Wal-mart has always been bigger than Sears. Stadiums, Concert Tours, & Sporting Events have always had “corporate” names. Fox has always been a “major” network. And “Google” has always been a verb.

Their lifetime has always included AIDS. Food packaging has always included nutritional labeling. Bottle caps have not only always been twist off, but have always been plastic. Atari pre-dates them, as does the Commodore 64, Nintendo (8-bit), & Sega Genesis. The expression “you sound like a broken record” means nothing to them since they never owned one. They have likely never played Pac Man nor heard of Gallaga. To them, an ‘8-Track” is simply the 8th song on a CD. Chicago and Alabama are places, not musical groups. Kriss Kross most likely had the number one theme song at their 2nd Birthday party. They were just finishing Kindergarten the last time the Dallas Cowboys won a Super Bowl. Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time for them. Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed. MTV has never featured music videos. Avatars have nothing to do with Hindu deities. And television stations have never concluded the broadcast day with the national anthem, followed by hours of static.

This generation has always had an answering machine (though now it’s pretty antiquated compared to voice mail). Most have never seen a TV set with only 13 channels (within a choice of UHF or VHF)- nor a black and white TV. They have always had cable & a VCR, and cannot imagine life without a remote control. This generation has probably never experienced the thrill of accepting a “long distance phone call.” Mini-Vans have always been their family vehicle of choice (what’s a “Station Wagon?”). Reality shows have always been on TV, They have always had a “PIN number”. Their President has always been a “southerner”. Cars have always had eye-level rear stop lights, CD players, and air bags. Non-Denominational Churches have always been the fastest-growing religious organization in the U.S. Professional athletes have always competed in the Olympics. George Foreman has always been a barbecue grill salesman. A “hair band” has always been some sort of accessory- and it was the U.S. Supreme Court of their day who voted that “sleeping” was a form of free speech…

Understand that one of the deepest values of today’s collegian is independence; which explains why they are likely to be single, to cohabitate, and to avoid having children. Commitments such as marriage and parenting would require them to live sacrificially, therefore undermining their independence. Their value of independence also explains why they tend to prefer independent bookstores, coffee shops, music stores, record labels, music bands, restaurants, and clothing stores over national chains and products. It also explains why they are reluctant to attend church or embrace a spirituality that requires a denomination, a theology, a pastor, the bible, or even Jesus- serve as authority over them.

For those of us wanting to reach this “Millennial Generation”, we need to remember five Key character traits of this incoming group… (1.) Options are a must… choice is one of their most deeply held values; (2.) They want people to customize to meet their needs… they have to be met where they are, not vice/versa; (3.) They need the option of changing their mind… they are growing up in a world where fixing a mistake takes a click of the mouse, and they believe changing their minds should be equally as painless; (4.) They have to try before they buy… they are users and doers and reject expert opinions in favor of forming their own; and (5.) They desperately need authenticity and transparency in a relationship before they can trust someone.

Most of today’s collegians have come from divorced homes or dysfunctional families and are now in need, again, to be re-parented. “Postponed Adolescence” marks this generation like none other. Patience is key. Prayer is key. Time invested is key. Jesus died for this generation as much as the one before them. We must seek to engage this culture in love, by seeking to understand them before we judge them. But we must also be bold with the Gospel, not backing down from its eternal truths which never change- and are still able to redeem and transform anybody- no matter how different they are from us or which generation they come from.

To God Be the Glory- and may we be bold in our witness for Him!


~ by Shea Sumlin on July 26, 2008.

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