When comparing myself to my mother, I can confidently claim that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. As far as mother-daughter pairs go, we’re about as similar as they come. We love to laugh, and we share the same quick-witted, self-deprecating sense of humor. We’re both anxious and right-brained people, operating on the “up-tight” side of the Type A-Type B spectrum. We’re curious and ambitious. We’re the lightest sleepers, and when we get hiccups, they last for weeks. We have a fascination with Hollywood, film and television. We like to complain. We love to write. We value friendships and family. We grew up in the same town. And last, but certainly not least, we’re both Michigan Wolverines.
It’s as if I’m a carbon copy of my mother roaming the streets of Ann Arbor, just 30 years later. The phenomenon makes for a great experiment. If she and I are the control variable, then the year is the independent variable, and the climate, the times, and the campus culture is the dependent variable. I couldn’t help but wonder what has changed since my mom was the one frequenting the Big House, the Shapiro Undergraduate Library and Pizza House. I wondered how those changes will shape and mold two similar people differently.
The first step to answering this question was pretty simple: I called my mom and started with the basics.
“What was your favorite place to study when you were here?”
“The Law Library.” Me too.
“Favorite late-night snack?”
“Pizza at Brown Jug.” Ah — for me it’s pizza at Joe’s.
“Favorite spot on campus?”
“The Diag and the Big House.” Me too.
“Studying before the sun rises or after it sets?”
“Before it rises.” Me too.
I could see already that she and I were on similar pages in 1986 and 2021, and that not too much had changed in Ann Arbor to account for that. Digging deeper, I asked my mom about her major, her academic aspirations and the opportunities provided to her when she was a Wolverine.
“I majored in political science because I wanted to go to law school, although I don’t think I knew why,” she reflected. “I was an English minor because I loved that — I loved writing — but I didn’t want to be a journalist and I didn’t understand how I could otherwise support myself as a writer.”
I’m similar to my mom in that I love writing and being creative yet don’t necessarily know what I’ll do with that passion after college. However, it seems like a couple aspects of modern-day Michigan, if not modern day in general, will hopefully better guide me and make me way more equipped to find a satisfying career so that I don’t have to latch onto a pre-law track like my mom did.
For one, I think our society views career paths and passions much differently and more open-mindedly than in 1986. It’s been 30 years since my mom was in school. In that time, technology has made options more apparent and accessible. Also in that time, women have broken barriers and ceilings in the workforce, affording me more opportunities and more confidence in the breadth of paths I’m able to pursue.
Additionally, here at Michigan, the prevalence of internships and the existence of outlets to help students prepare for their futures were missing from my mom’s education. For example, the LSA Opportunity Hub, created to help liberal arts students figure out their careers and lives post-college, did not exist until 2016. Thus, my mom was much less aware of career options to begin with.
“My friends and I thought about lawyers, doctors, business, social work. I think it ended there. I knew you could go to Los Angeles and be an actor. But I didn’t know you could go to Los Angeles and develop concepts for shows, or write for late-night TV. If I would’ve known that, well…,” she trailed off.
Further, the academic options, from majors to courses, seem to be much larger and more specialized than those in 1986. I’m a double major in psychology and film, television, and media (FTVM), and I minor in writing. There was no such thing as FTVM when she was here, nor was there a minor in writing.
“It was a nuts and bolts curriculum in our day,” my mom reflected.
Today, I think our curriculum is the opposite of nuts and bolts. Even scrolling through our detailed course catalog the other day gave me intense anxiety, and I usually backpack in waves because the depth of interesting and niche classes overwhelms me. But listening to my mom, I felt grateful for the plethora of options we’re now afforded. I think the courses we take, from “Writing for Television II: Pilots” to “Community Journalism: The Art and Practice of Narrative Nonfiction,” make us more open-minded and better prepared for our futures.
“What about clubs and activities?” I asked. I wanted to know about her extracurricular life next. But upon hearing the question, my mom laughed. Apparently, she didn’t have one.
“I mean, in all honesty, we just didn’t do clubs,” she explained. “People were not applying to all these things like you guys are. I’m pretty sure I didn’t have a resume.”
The extent of my mom’s extracurricular life was writing for The Michigan Daily for a year or two. She spent a lot of time writing skits and songs for her sorority’s recruitment. Today, I, too, write for The Michigan Daily. I’m a member of MMBC (Michigan Music Business Club). I’m a part of Encore, a hip-hop dance team on campus. I’m in a sorority too; a different one than my mom. We don’t spend our days writing rush skits, though. We don’t even do rush skits.
Again, the theme of increased options threaded its needle. My extracurricular spread is a large part of my identity at school. The clubs I belong to spark my curiosity, possibly prepare me for my future and of course, take up an overwhelming amount of time.
“You’re taking advantage of everything there so much more than I did,” my mom said. “But then again, I’m not sure we had as much, in that realm, to take advantage of. There was no Statement section of The Daily, for example.”
It seems that in 1986, the best way for my mom to indulge her creative passion was to conceptualize rush plays and jingles. She was okay with that, because that’s all she knew back then.
In a certain regard, the lack of an extracurricular life seems nice to me. With so much on my plate, I’m constantly overwhelmed, wondering how I’m going to get everything done and coming up for air less often than I should. I think this goes for most U-M students. But I know that I’m informing myself and my future, for the better. Plus, it didn’t seem like my mom had a plethora of time on her hands either.
“I remember leaving football games early to go work on papers,” my mom recalled.
I told her I didn’t understand: If they didn’t do clubs or extracurriculars, how could she possibly not have an abundance of free time on her hands?
The answer was technology: an obvious, but nevertheless essential, variable in the experiment differentiating my time from hers.
“If you wanted to contact a professor, you needed to wait for them after class. That was the only way,” she explained. “If you wanted to use a computer, you had to wait in line at the Computer Lab.”
This factor seemed minor at first, but once I thought about the daily correspondence that takes place between me, professors or Graduate Student Instructors through quick little emails or through Canvas, I realized how hefty the difference really was. The lack of phones deeply influenced their social lives, too.
“After morning classes ended, people just headed to the Diag.”
Apparently, the Diag was the meeting and socializing hub of 1986, and probably until iPhones and texting came into the picture.
“You’d see the whole world. You’d talk and wait until you saw friends. Then you’d decide what to do for lunch. It was the daily routine,” she explained.
I was dumbfounded. My social life here today is centered around nightlife and the weekends; you could catch me dead before going out to lunch with friends in the middle of a Wednesday. I pictured the Diag now, mostly occupied by students sprint-walking to their next location, stopping for quick conversation or stationed there for extracurricular purposes. While it’s still a social space, the thought of it being a social center was bizarre. A little comical.
But it made sense. Today, my schedule is pretty seamless, packed back-to-back from the time I wake up till the time I hit the pillow. I’m constantly able to text, check emails or GroupMe. When doing one thing, I am also planning for the next. We can rearrange and coordinate in a minute — a concept the Wolverines of 1986 never experienced.
“People played hacky sack in the grass there, too,” my mom remembered. “It was hippie-esque — we weren’t that far removed from the 70s.” Hacky sack, a game where you stand in a circle and kick a bean bag sack back and forth, was a sign of the times.
Today, I think the students themselves are a sign of the times, walking through the Diag with masks on our faces, AirPods in our ears, phones in our hands. It’s impossible to compare my time here to my mom’s without thinking about current events, the political climate. The Victors today are completely molded by COVID-19, the Trump presidency, and the Black Lives Matter Movement. We juggle a lot, between our academic lives, social lives and our civic responsibility, to keep up with, process and respond to the world at large.
My mother seemed to juggle less, though she wasn’t at a lack of political events to report. “It was the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union collapsed. Reagan was president. The Berlin Wall came down, communism was crumbling,” my mom explained. “In the Diag, there was a constant Apartheid protest centered around this cardboard shanty students built.”
There was, however, an essential difference:
“Almost none of the activity was on our soil; it was all foreign.” Because of that, my mom doesn’t think her generation was as burdened as we are. They also didn’t have the 24/7 news cycle that we do; they weren’t getting constant, instant notifications about what was happening. “We were more politically naïve than you guys are and could afford to be. It was the 80s,” she said.
As we talked, my mom’s life here seemed increasingly simpler and calmer. A classic “good old days” narrative. They brought alcohol into the football stadium in bota bags. They didn’t have computers, they wrote everything by hand. Their dorms had a phone attached to the wall, and apparently, everyone listened to everyone’s conversations. They had less contact with their parents, as calling home was expensive. The plethora of apartment buildings that provide student housing in Ann Arbor today did not exist; there were houses, and people secured them a semester out rather than two years prior. Freshman year, everyone was assigned a roommate. At her sorority and fraternity parties, there was a “Picture Man” who’d drop prints at the houses for them to look at and order from. Ulrich’s, the bookstore, was the largest store on campus. And elaborate tailgating clothes did not exist.
“People either owned a blue Champion sweatshirt with yellow writing or a yellow Champion sweatshirt with blue writing. Or gray with blue writing.”
Thinking of the new variation of maize and blue I conjure up every weekend for game days suddenly made me feel stupid.
And in many ways, I’m jealous of my mom’s experience. Fewer options meant fewer decisions. less to balance, less commotion to sift through and navigate. It was surely easier for anxious, “uptight” people like my mother and me, and probably everyone at large. I wish technology today didn’t allow me to pack my schedule back-to-back and multitask a trillion different events, meetings, social happenings and classes all at once. I wish I could stroll on over to the Diag and make a plan to go to lunch based on who I ran into. I wish I had time to go to lunch — what a concept!
But apparently, my analysis isn’t wholly accurate. It wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine; 1986 students weren’t sitting back in lawn chairs, either. It’s all relative — my mom was still stressed, overwhelmed, and worried about her future.
“My friend Julie was always stressed about her organic chemistry class and MCATs. I was stressed about getting papers written and we were all stressed about grades and finals and our future.”
Our experiences were different — there’s no denying that. But at the heart of our Michigan experiences, I think there’s an overwhelming amount of similarity.
“Kids were smart, cared about studying, cared about grades. Everyone had lots of energy; they were enthusiastic Michigan fans. I laughed the hardest I ever laughed with my friends and had the most fun I ever had.”
I think I can say ditto to all of that. Being a UofM student means experiencing stress, but also irreplaceable memories, hard work, spirit, and friendship — the things that mean most to me, my mom, and evidently the Wolverines of both generations.
“Friendship is friendship and love is love so the relationships that people make on campus are just as tight, and the love of Michigan and Ann Arbor is the same. We’re all Wolverines, we all bleed blue,” my mom eloquently concluded near the end of our conversation.
I agree. I’m proud to be a Michigan Wolverine, and I’m proud to be like my mom. For all intents and purposes, between me and my mom and between the University of Michigan in 1986 and 2021, I conclude that the apple does not, in fact, fall far from the tree.
Statement Correspondent Lilly Dickman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.