An Open Letter to the Baby Boomers, the Dumb Luck Generation
Now that you’ve departed or are soon to be departing from the seat of power in American society, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to you, the Baby Boomers.
You have made us very proud while you’ve walked amongst these storied halls, streets, and amber waves of grain. And we, your sons and daughters, are proud of how you’ve grown.
Recently so many of you have kindly seen fit to share various commencement messages to my generation in the Wall Street Journal, TIME, and newspapers everywhere (pro tip: next time you want to reach us, don’t put it behind a paywall). I thought it would only be fitting for us to have a chance to return the favor. As a narcissistic, entitled, internet-enabled positivity freak (read: millennial), I have accordingly taken it upon myself to tell you what we think you need to know. Believe me, it’s going to be totally awesome.
First and foremost, I would like to begin by congratulating you on what we fellow generations have come to realize is the defining influence of your generation — pure dumb luck.
Yes, you were born in the United States at the sweet economic intersection of post-war demand, a youth bulge (okay, duh), a legacy of infrastructure building, and a horde of technological and scientific breakthroughs. These things have defined pretty much every aspect of who all of you are as a group.
You rode the wave of the interstate highway system, commercial aviation, Howdy-Doody (note to millennials: don’t ask), advanced yet still helpfully labor-intensive chemical and manufacturing production techniques, fluoridated water, suburban housing, Walter Cronkite, and all sorts of other miracles that your parents found fit to develop. And you were immeasurably better off for it, even though you didn’t technically speaking make it happen.
That’s not to say you didn’t earn some inventive stripes of your own while you were in charge. The internet is pretty darned sweet. Let me also just say that nobody, and I mean nobody, loves Steve Jobs the way we do. Think of him as your older brother — the valedictorian at Princeton while you were at community college.
But I’m not here to write about the work of a few today, I’m here to talk about what you — plural — have done for the world. While you may have been trained to think of your legacy in terms of technology or (ridiculously) your music, most of you didn’t really help with that. You are not Mick Jagger. Together, you gave us something. Something we will always remember. And that something is love.
Flower power, hippies, upside-down-Mercedes-Benz-logos, and the whole bit? Historical evidence (mainly archaeological) reveals to us that you were the ones who had the audacity to stand up and question the reflexive entry into war in Vietnam – the first generation to stand up in such defiance against a conflict perpetuated by your elders. You were the ones, nursed upon the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who finally collectively recognized racism as an outrage to everyone, not just people of that race. You also got a good start on bringing a serious challenge to sexism and homophobia. Almost every time an issue in which exclusion based on birth or nature in this country was called into question, it was because of you.
I’m here to tell you that we are all immensely grateful to you for it. And the work continues, slowly, often painfully, to the present day. You probably didn’t realize that tuning in to watch the Anita Hill hearings was going to be your big impact, but at the end of the day, the attention you gave to that and other manifestations of societal issues made a big difference. The fact that you actually cared mattered. And we live in a much more egalitarian, prosperous country as a result.
But let us also remember that you have not been perfect.
You never felt the pinch of severity your parents did during the Great Depression. Most of you didn’t ever have to worry about going hungry. You were used to things being relatively easy and the stock market going up.
Understandably then, investment back into the society that protected you so well has been pretty low. You have gorged yourselves on the winter stores by voting for advocates of rock-bottom taxes, irresponsible borrowing, and bloated entitlements. Maybe you started to think of the economy like you thought of the space program — only going up.
As a result, we millennials have now been left to rebuild. This time in the same arena as countries you perhaps used to call “third world” and assumed would always be behind. We no longer have the luxury of driving on nicer roads than those found in China. We will not be able to say that our university better taught us mathematics or science or technology than one in India. The hard-earned things which were given to you will now be striven for.
But, despite it all — call it filial loyalty — we are fairly certain that you meant well. We know that you always thought you were doing the best you could. We also have to admit that we would have made pretty much the same call had we been given your circumstances.
Nonetheless, where for you college was a time of self-exploration and academic development, for us it is increasingly a stressful race for jobs and practical skills. Where for you a car, a home, or a loan was something to be enjoyed now and worried about later, for us will be reverse. Where for you winning a job required being an American who was willing to learn, for us it requires being a citizen of the world, willing to learn, and already knowing a lot. It’s harder, and not all of us are going to win that battle. But while it’s somewhat frightening, you have actually given us the best preparation possible.
You are the children of luck, but we are the children of love. We are the generation that will be able to work with our neighbors rather than fear them. We will be the Americans who can help, who can understand, and who can see through other eyes. And that’s because of you.
I guess what I’m really trying to say is, your greatest achievement is us. It’s the future we’re going to create. And, believe me, it’s going to be totally awesome.