Michael Dean

Columbine. 9/11. The Great Recession. Sandy Hook. Our generation has come of age in an era of tragedies, each one seemingly worse than the last. From a very young age, we have been exposed to the grim aspects of life. Much like the way a baby picks up new words and mannerisms from its parents; our generation has been shaped by these events and countless others on an international, national, and local level whose magnitude has compelled us to view our life and our future in a way very different from generations past. Because of these events, I believe that what my generation does that is better than any other is to redefine the notion of “success” in a way that balances our hopes and dreams for the future, while recognizing the uncertainty of the world in which we live.

Coming of age, a certain point of view begins to emerge in the minds of many in my generation. It is a point of view partially defined by cynicism . . . cynicism towards grandiose “success myths” that shaped the thinking of generations past. These myths were based on notions such as the “American Dream” or being able to “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. For our generation, these notions appear elusive in light of current economic challenges, both global and national. We recognize that hard work (alone) and a desire to better oneself (alone) do not guarantee success. We recognize that events out of our control can and do impact our futures. Our generation lives with concerns for our physical safety, the threat of violence becoming normalized to the point that having lock-down drills at school is an accepted part of life. Our generation knows that a dream could be cut short by the seemingly random violence that is part of our world today. 

While many of these events could easily evoke feelings of hopelessness, they also present an opportunity for our generation to look at our futures differently and, in fact, live differently than we would have had we come of age in a different time. We strive to define our own notion of success. Our definition of success is one which recognizes fulfillment not just in the future, but also in the present. Our definition of success recognizes that emotional well-being is just as important as physical and financial well-being. Our definition of success is one where we are actively engaged in the quest to find our passions and to incorporate those passions in our educational path and life’s work. Our definition of success recognizes the importance of being content and happy with our lives as they are now, and not just at some elusive point in the future. While many of us would not have chosen to come of age in these times, it is “what we know” and what shapes us and, as a result, I believe my generation is better suited than any other to create a definition of “success” for our lives.