The students entering college this year prefer to watch television everywhere except on a television. They have never needed an actual airplane ticket or set of encyclopedias. Since the class of 2016 has been born, the United States has seen a 2 percent increase in unemployment and 16-cent rise in the price of a stamp. Incoming students often carry backpacks that roll on wheels.
Every August since 1998, Beloit College in Wisconsin has released a “Mindset List” that aims to place students entering college in historical context. The list relies on “cultural touchstones” and events from the birth year of students now entering college to steer professors away from using dated references that lack relevance to modern students.
The list helps give people in Maine and across the U.S. perspective. By understanding specific differences between generations, people of all ages can better bridge those gaps in knowledge and experience.
Born in 1994, most members of the incoming college class “are entering college bombarded by questions about jobs and the value of a college degree,” an introduction to this year’s “Mindset List” states. YouTube has always been around to shape their political perspective, which depends heavily on information relayed by Jon Stewart, who took over as host of “The Daily Show” the year the class of 2016 entered kindergarten.
Some of the most striking aspects of the class of 2016’s world view are:
• Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Richard Nixon have always been dead.
• Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
• 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.
• Women have always piloted warplanes and space shuttles.
• L.L. Bean hunting shoes have always been known as just plain Bean Boots.
• They have no recollection of when Arianna Huffington was a conservative.
• Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.
A Maine-specific “Mindset List” would include the following items:
• Olympia Snowe has always been a U.S. senator, which means that Maine’s congressional delegation has always included at least one woman.
• George Mitchell, John McKernan and Joseph Brennan have never held elected office.
• Loring Air Force Base has always been closed.
• Motorists have always been able to acquire a “loon plate,” with part of the proceeds going to support wildlife conservation.
• Exits on Interstate 95 have always been designated by mile markers.
• The Portland Sea Dogs have always played minor league baseball at Hadlock Field.
• Cindy Blodgett never played high school basketball.
• They’ve never heard Bud Leavitt speak or read his outdoors columns other than in archives.
Beyond making the class of 2016’s parents — and older siblings — feel ancient, the list presents an interesting way to look at cultural evolution. It shows that, even with a gridlocked Congress and areas of economic stagnation, change drives American society inexorably forward.
As attitudes evolve, notions that awed or dumbfounded one generation become accepted and taken for granted just 20 or 40 years later. It’s all a part of how the nation expands public knowledge. Americans should always debate the worth of new ideas and proposals, but it’s reassuring, in a way, to know that change will always keep coming.