Seniors, think back to 1998. We were moving into our residence halls, saying good-bye to our old lives and getting ready to craft a new one of our own choosing here in Ann Arbor.
Ask yourselves a few questions.
How many of you had a cell phone then? How many of you now couldn’t live without one? In just a matter of four years, an improvement in personal communication has dramatically altered the way we live our lives.
Think back to 1998. How many of you then knew what the Taliban was, or if you did, really cared? How many of you then thought the key to quick success in the world was to get into the B-School and launch your own dot-com or pursue i-banking after graduation?
How many of you then thought getting a job would be as easy as it was for our older siblings and upperclassmen peers? How many of you have a job right now?
Although many of us dreamed the dreams of those who came before us, those aspirations fizzled during our four years in Ann Arbor. The world we are entering is obviously uncertain, but it is also worrisome. Will our economy recover? Can we feel safe abroad? Can we feel safe at home? Will our nation get back to any sense of normalcy? The continuation of time is the only thing we can depend on.
Graduation is a time to look forward, but it forces us to look back as well. And for us, the Class of 2002, our vantage point on the world has been one-of-a-kind.
Do you know that there are freshmen at the University who were born in 1984? That blows my mind, but perhaps just because I’m getting old, preparing to turn 23 this summer. But when you think about it, do the current freshmen view the world through the same eyes we do?
In many ways, no.
For the Class of 2002, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986 was the first image seared into our collective memory. Many of us watched the disaster live in our kindergarten classrooms. We didn’t totally comprehend what was going on; all we knew was that something bad, something scary, had happened.
Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall – the first real image (aside from Gorbechov’s red blotch on his head) we could connect to the Cold War and the Soviet Union, things that took a college education to understand fully.
Then came the Gulf War, our first exposure to the Middle East. For many of us, it was our first connection to places like Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel. The images then were of Scud missiles raining down on Riyadh and Tel Aviv, live night vision camera shots of Baghdad, smart bombs and oil well fires.
Then came President Clinton and the 1990s were in full swing. The ’80s, Reagan and Bush, Sr. were something in the past. Many of us lived by the Clinton campaign mantra, “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.”
As teenagers, life was comfortable and most of us had little to worry about. We knew the Oklahoma City bombing and the 1993 World Trade Center attack were horrible, but we didn’t really care. Those events were just blips on the radar screen.
We came of age when MTV came of age. Beavis and Butthead, rap music and hip-hop freaked out the establishment. Grunge and Seattle withered and died. O.J. was on trial.
Then came the rise of the Internet. In high school we got our first e-mail accounts, but we still remembered a time a few years earlier when our teachers told us if we didn’t have a computer, we had to use a typewriter or stay after school in the computer lab to finish large assignments. Before the mid-’90s, the @ symbol was rarely used. But during high school, while on AOL Instant Messenger, we were amused by the introduction of the 🙂 into our digital culture; http:// became second nature to us while typing on a keyboard.
Then we graduated from high school and came to Ann Arbor. Life was generally good. We were here to learn about our world, enjoy life in all of our pursuits and absorb everything we could.
During the fall semester of our freshmen year, the Daily printed the full transcript of the intimate details of President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky’s sexual relations. Walking through the residence halls then, it wasn’t uncommon to see the full page cut out, taped to doors, with the passages about blowjobs and cigars highlighted in yellow. We found it funny. It was a novelty of sorts, just like many things from the decade of our coming of age. But Clinton, just like the 1990s, is a relic, that doesn’t seem relevant to our world now. He, just like the decade that symbolically ended on a beautiful September morning last year, is in the distant past.
The purpose of a college experience, as I was once told, was to take in everything in order to prepare oneself for post-graduate life. If you learn the rules of life and of our world during college, you’ll succeed after graduation.
But during our four years, we traversed a symbolic and very real meridian that has divided one era from another. The rules of the game we were just getting used to have been rewritten during our senior year. And even as they are still being rewritten, we’re trying to figure things out all over again, as graduation day nears.
Perhaps as college students with experience in both worlds, we’ll be better prepared for the challenges we’re going to face in the coming years and decades. But we should still realize that the adventure is only beginning.
Michael Grass is an LSA senior and served as co-editorial page editor for the Daily in 2001.