Monday, April 15, 2024 -
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My generation

Having celebrated my birthday last week (along with my cosmic twin Volodymyr Zelensky and my ancestral twin Robert Burns), I am firmly in middle age. No sugarcoating it.

Is it the nature of every generation to think it’s the best? Because I certainly think mine, the cusp of Gen X/Millennial, is. When I reflect on the 20th century, I can’t think of a better time to have come of age than the late ‘80s and ‘90s.

The Berlin Wall coming down in 1989 and the Cold War ending in 1991, ushered in a decade that was as close to perfect as I’m going to get. Prior to helicopter parenting, cellphones and family finder apps, my teen friends and I found our way to museums and concerts by bus, metro or, after 16, car.

Attending high school out of state certainly helped on the independence front, but honestly, no one’s parents seemed all that concerned about what we got up to, so long as our school assignments were completed and we maintained our grades. (On that matter, there was almost no parental-guardian oversight; we just did our work, with teen grumbling to be sure!)

Our mostly frontal learning, which today is deemed somewhat authoritarian, created critical thinkers who loved talking about literature and culture.

I’m so glad I went to undergrad when I did. By the time I was pursuing my master’s (post 2000), I recognized that universities had turned into big business, churning out expensive degrees on subjects that once would have never been considered academic. And since Oct. 7, one of the first questions I’m asked by high school friends is, “Aren’t you glad you went to Brandeis?” (Answer: an unequivocal yes.)
Like in high school, college life required far less orthodox thinking in areas of, for example, race and gender. Some of the best college courses I took would today possibly be considered passé, as they focused on “old white men,” even as they drew universal lessons about the human condition.

Far less attention was given to identity and pigeon-holding labels.

My generation got the best of an analog world, but also are near digital natives. We experienced the very early part of gentrification, before everything became corporatized and unaffordable.

At middle age, one has lived long enough to recognize the pivotal historical events that shape one’s adulthood: Sept. 11, and now, Oct. 7.

While I’m not yet a curmudgeon (alternatively, I’ve always been slightly misanthropic), getting older means knowing oneself better and being less susceptible to peer pressure.

So there you have it: My birthday-triggered reflection hasn’t led to crisis, but instead to an appreciation of my life thus far. Yup, I’m a fully-paid up member of the “In my day we trudged to school by foot in freezing weather” club.

Shana Goldberg may be reached at [email protected].

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