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America's Next "Greatest Generation?"


While many question the future of the American dream, commentator Rawlins Gilliland reflects on how he believes our newest generations will rank as its guardians.

I was raised in the 21st century more than a half century ago.  By that I mean, my parents were more typical of today than then. Their disconnect with 1950s prevailing norms was so pronounced that, after watching the young mature in this millennium, I feel like a broken clock that is finally telling the correct time. 

Media analysis characterizing first the Gen-X and now Gen-Y so-called "millennial" generations as self-centered, lacking social skills, etc. strike me as peculiar since I enjoy friends in either camp and feel otherwise.  In the eyes of this smitten ‘baby boomer’, these engrossing individuals echo the ethos of my observant childhood.  Here in part is why.

Dad had no hyper testosterone angst and was willing to show emotions.  Aware of women as equals, he believed in co-parenting and frequently cooked. Despite living in Dallas, he never owned a car. Mother had her career as a newspaper book review columnist.  Her musician husband never felt threatened that her status and income outstripped his. She socialized independently, including with men, unheard of in that era. When segregation was the flawed law of the land, guests visiting our home were, by any definition, diverse. The freedom to think for one’s self and be physically active was organic.

There’s more.  Around 1950, Dad was fired in his only corporate job after trying to promote his secretary into the sales force.  Mother’s all-male editorial board demoted her for insisting that she use her byline instead of a male pseudonym when reviewing the controversial new book, To Kill A Mockingbird. Feminine while neither coy nor reverse psychology manipulative, she often wore jeans to walk or bike anywhere she could.  Dad advocated public transit.  None of this bore any relation to what I saw or sensed in any home I entered.  Until this century.

 Not long ago I spoke with a high school senior who epitomized this new age I once envisioned as the futurist norm. Her Gen-X parents, still in their 40s, steered her to be admirably self-possessed rather than self-absorbed. The poised athletic way she moved or even stood personified a second-generation Title Nine beneficiary having played basketball and soccer.  She exuded a naturally adroit ambition I recognized at home 60 years earlier. Her football scholarship brother shrugged upon learning his college roommate is openly gay.  What’s not to love?

Anyone born in the 80s or 90s has been online since adolescence and considers our fragile Planet Earth their neighborhood. They’ve never known a world where entitled males presumed they had inherently superior gifts.  No Information Age girl knew a world where female options were few.  An African-American president was elected in their formative years. Latinos and Asians are not seen as another "race." 

It’s my avowed theory of evolution that, in an entirely new way for entirely new reasons, we are witnessing the coming of age of the next American "greatest generation."  It’s the better world I was raised to glimpse and have waited a lifetime to see.

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.