David McCullough Jr. recently gave a widely reported and commented upon commencement speech for Wellesley High. Why the interest? Because McCullough told the students the cold, hard reality that "none of you is special."
While this might very well be true, who else is to blame for this belief besides McCullough? Unlike what those in their right-wing rocking chairs say, it's not some arbitrary trait of ours. In fact, it's a trait that's been nursed by those same parents and teachers who are so quick to accuse us of it. The baby boomers, with the best intentions, have made us into what we are today: a generation of spoiled individuals. Yes, I said it.
Since day one, we've been force-fed dreams: the "reach for the stars" mentality, the Disney "follow your heart," and "you are unique" theme of every children's movie we grew up with. Never before has there been a generation in which, if a student did poorly in school, the parents would blame the teacher, not the student. We are so quick to say our parents' generation is passing the buck onto us, but we are the generation that will be defined by our complete absolution of responsibility. How old were we when we were first entrusted to cross a street by ourselves? Or walk to school alone? Or make our own food? It was never the college student's fault that he failed a course, but rather that of the lack of online material, or the size of the lecture itself. It was never because of the pupil's lack of studying that he flunked a math test, but rather because of ADD, ADHD or some other alphabetism that has come to excuse all of our faults. Failure was the product of some external force that we could never possibly control. Even the most simple of childhood experiences -- such as bullying, or eating too much candy -- have been turned into national issues and debated over by politicians.
Unsurprisingly, all this has led us to become -- without a doubt -- the most vain generation since the invention of the looking glass. Add into this relatively recent influence of social media: For every important update from the Arab Spring, there are 10 people "sharing" what they just ate at the mall. For every announcement from the Occupy camp (give them this credit: they mastered a medium at the expense of a message), there are 20 people posting their innermost banalities: "I'm hungry!" "I love summer!" or "Shopping makes me so tired!"
This management of the online self -- the hours we spend picking that perfect profile picture, the status update we think twice about before sharing to make sure it's just funny enough for our friends -- used to be an exercise reserved for the publicists and agents of Hollywood celebrities. But now, it has come to infect the homes of almost 180 million users in North America. When one spends hours looking at oneself, and brings a camera to every single outing (cutting out the paparazzi middle man for middle America), we inevitably become more obsessed with ourselves; and vanity is the first stepping stone to entitlement.
So after being told we are all superstars -- after we have checked our Twitter feed one last time before leaving the house -- what do we do when we come face to face with an indifferent, cold economy that could not care less about our dreams, let alone about how many karma points we have on Reddit?
Yes, we are an entitled generation -- and we were brought up to be so. Before they begin insulting us, the baby boomers might examine their own culpability in leading and nurturing us to this ugly point of safety and false hope (and, might I add, the crappiest economy for young people in generations). They convinced us a country could support an entire population of actresses, and we believed it, and we still do.
So maybe it is time for my generation to grasp a lesson many of us did not learn growing up -- which is to take responsibility for our own lives and the world as we find it. Maybe it's time to stop yelling and occupying. Maybe it's time to become the solution -- rather than looking for where to place the blame for the problem. If we want to fix something, we have to start by admitting something is wrong with us in the first place, even if we can't say it in 140 characters or less.