Lydia M. Evans
School Without Walls Senior High School
District of Columbia – 3rd Place Winner
"What can the Greater Washington business community learn from today's high school students?"
Imagine eleven District of Columbia High Schools represented on the weekly television show The Apprentice® the seasonal reality show hosted by Donald Trump. On this show contestants are subject to rigorous tasks that put their aptitude, intelligence and, most importantly, their street smarts and common sense to the test. The contestants are competing for a chance to acquire the ultimate high paid position at the Donald Trump Corporation. Picture the things the greater Washington business community can learn from these students if they were competing for this title. Consider generation Y high school students in the corporate arena and all they have to offer.
Many times, young people in this country are thought of with critical perceptions. In actuality, this generation of high school students with their ideals, advanced computer skills and determination should be appreciated by the unique business community in the Washington Metropolitan area. Unlike other areas Washington Metropolitan are is the hub of the federal government, loaded with arts and cultural organizations, along with a variety of corporate and not-for-profit organizations. Our ideals of determination and our sense of character can enhance the diverse community of corporations, non-profits and federal agencies in this area.
We are the next generation; the ones who will face the problems brought about by greed, inaction, apathy, indulgence and inertia from the previous generations. Of course, that’s not to say that great strides haven’t been made as well. In my 92-year old grandfather’s lifetime, he has seen the progress from creaky radio to the creation of TV, space flight with men (or women) walking on the moon, communication improvements from typewriter to iPod®, telecommunications go from dial phones to email and instant message, and the thing that has irreparably changed our lives forever, the computer, and its spawn, the Internet. But for every progressive step, there is a price to be paid. And we, the adults of tomorrow, will be forced to pay it.
I read an article the other day that said my generation was going to be a difficult marketing target as adults because, unlike the current Baby Boomers, we are not into “things.” They were speaking to the fact that we were not deprived because of a Great Depression and therefore don’t feel the need to own or hoard precious items like cars, jewelry, houses or even food. Our priorities are different and what business could and should learn from us is how we view things. Our worldview is completely different than Generation X. We are technocrats; we live and die by communication – via cell phones, texting or IM. While sociologists make dire predictions about our social interactions and predict doom and gloom for our upcoming marriages, they would do well to consider that we are (or could be) the most well informed group of people on the planet! Instead of appealing to consumerism - as they did with the former generation - businesses should appeal to our intellect – and do so in a manner that is techno savvy, upbeat, age appropriate and realistic.
Having said that, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that we are also a generation of optimists. And while that notion might not appeal to your average bureaucrat, it is an important component of who we are and what we strive to be. The average bureaucrat doesn’t think beyond his spreadsheet but always looks at the bottom line which doesn’t work for my generation. We are more into the cause that creates that effect. Yes, we want to be productive, but at what cost? Looking at things globally – again, another attribute of my generation because the world is so much more accessible now – how are we going to get along with our global neighbors? Because we now know that there is really only ONE economy despite what they say about micro and macroeconomics, what can my generation do to counteract the economic downturn? While we’re at it, what is it going to take to renew our fragile ecosystems? The generations before mine have ravaged the rain forests, plunged a hole in the ozone layer, decimated glaciers and polluted the oceans. Yet my generation is optimistic enough to think we can still save this planet and the people who live on it. Big business would do well to listen to the upcoming generation. We’re not just all talk and, despite what is portrayed in the media, we actually do care.
We can offer an unbiased view of things. We can offer a fresh perspective; and some of us are even smart enough to come up with new solutions. Is it not a fact that hackers, while considered a nuisance at least and a major pain at most, are generally pre teens or adolescents? Yet some of these hackers are so smart that they are offered positions within the most sensitive levels of our government just based on their ability to break into a government website. Businesses can learn HOW to hack – or shore up their existing systems – by employing or otherwise engaging these young people. Yet the best is yet to come because guess what? We haven’t even begun to tap into our potential.
We are still young enough to dream of a crime free world, a world without racial profiling or stereotyping, a world of equality, peace and serenity. Who’s to say it can’t be done? My generation won’t allow the baby boomers to dash our hopes or destroy our dreams because of our tenacity, perseverance and reverence for life. I’m not claiming that these traits are unique to my generation. I’m simply saying that their application is applied differently with us and businesses should take note.
Unlike previous generations, my generation won’t stay in a job for umpteen years just to retire with a gold watch. It is no big deal to us to have several jobs on our resume by the time we’re 25, and to even switch careers two or three times in our lifetime. If nothing else, businesses could learn from our flexibility. We don’t conform, we accommodate. We learn, adapt and ultimately improve. It’s called progress. Ours is a flexible generation and flexibility is a key to longevity. We already know this and we’re only adolescents. We are sophisticated beyond our years due to the influence of the Internet. While we may not have traveled outside of the US, we are still very aware that there is a world out there and what we do locally does often indeed affect someone globally. We are the first generation to see this actualized because of the Internet and the import of this is truly significant.
My generation can vote, get a driver’s license and even drink alcohol at an earlier age than the previous generation. To many this may be a sign of excess, to me, it’s a sign of our earlier burgeoning maturity. My grandmother was a late starter for her generation. She got married at 27, had 2 kids by the time she was 38 and spent the rest of her life in a government job until her retirement at age 55. With all due respect to my grandmother, I cannot envision such a commonplace life. She didn’t even travel until she was 17 and came to Washington DC for a job. By the time I was 6 years old, I had traveled to Maine, Massachusetts, New Orleans, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida. And in addition to revisiting those places in my 17 years of life, I have also been to California, Minnesota, Illinois, West Virginia and Canada. My worldview is shaped by my travels and experiences and my experience is not unusual, my friends travel as well. Thus to big business high school students can bring a combination of youthful exuberance, skepticism about the corporate world, dismay at the current state of affairs and a determination to make things better for the next generation.
All this was probably true of my Mother’s generation as well. They too wanted to make things better for their kids. But unlike us, they didn’t have the tools. We do and it’s up to the business community to ensure that we use them correctly. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it would be to dismiss us because of our age is short sighted and loses sight of what we have to offer. We have insights to share, ideas to develop and passions to be cultivated. So the Washington business community, be it corporations, non-profits and the many federal government agencies, just listen to what we have to say. “Oh the things Donald Trump would learn if he opened up his network television show to today’s high school student”!