AT LARGE with Tom Williams: Understanding the college class of 2016

Attention: open in a new window. PrintE-mail

The college experience is underway for the Class of 2016.

Thousands from this area have just moved on to the next step in their education. Things will be different for them the next four years. But, as the people at Beloit College in Wisconsin point out, things have always been different for them.

Each August since 1998, Beloit has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at how cultural changes have shaped the lives of students entering college that fall. It was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references. But it quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation.

For the class of 2016, Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge. And Stephen Breyer has always been an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Here are some of their life experiences – putting them in a far different place than previous generations.

They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.

They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”

The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.

Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes “American Royalty.”

If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.   Understanding the college class of 2016

Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.

Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker's long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.

They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”

On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.

For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.

They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.

There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.

While still fans of music on radio, they often listen to it on their laptops or replace it with music downloaded onto their MP3s and iPods.

Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.

Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.

A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.

Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.

They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.

Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.

Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.

They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”

There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.

Newt Gingrich has always been a key figure in politics, trying to change the way America thinks about everything.

Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.

Slavery has always been unconstitutional in Mississippi, and Southern Baptists have always been apologizing for supporting it in the first place.

The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has always translated operas on seatback screens.

Gene therapy has always been an available treatment.

They were too young to enjoy the 1994 World Series, but then no one else got to enjoy it either.

The folks have always been able to grab an Aleve when the kids started giving them a migraine.

Understanding the college class of 2016  While the iconic TV series for their older siblings was the sci-fi show “Lost,” for them it’s “Breaking Bad,” a gritty crime story motivated by desperate economic circumstances.

Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.

They grew up, somehow, without the benefits of Romper Room.

There has always been a World Trade Organization.

L.L. Bean hunting shoes have always been known as just plain Bean Boots.

They have always been able to see Starz on Direct TV.

There has always been a Santa Claus.

NBC has never shown “A Wonderful Life” more than twice during the holidays.

Understanding the college class of 2016  Mr. Burns has replaced J.R. Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.

They have always enjoyed school and summer camp memories with a digital yearbook.

Herr Schindler has always had a list; Mr. Spielberg has always had an Oscar.

Selena's fans have always been in mourning.

They know many established film stars by their voices on computer-animated blockbusters.

History has always had its own channel.

The Twilight Zone involves vampires, not Rod Serling.

Robert Osborne has always been introducing Hollywood history on TCM.

Little Caesar has always been proclaiming “Pizza, Pizza.”

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has always been officially recognized with clinical guidelines.

They watch television everywhere but on a television.

Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.

Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.

Astronauts have always spent well over a year in a single space flight.

Lou Gehrig has never held the record for most consecutive baseball games played during their lifetimes.

This is the world that the Class of 2016 brings to their college experience.

Words of Wisdom: “All progress is precarious and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

(Martin Luther King Jr.)




blog comments powered by Disqus