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August 25, 2009 | 4 Comments

Post to the Host:
Dear Mr. Keillor, I'm 19 years old, a student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and grew up listening to your stories, starting with the one about Gladys hitting the raccoon.

I'd like to say that I've been living a good life so far. I've kept my grades up, I'm doing well in Air Force ROTC, I've become fluent in Japanese and spent 8 weeks in Japan, and I am now learning about Irish culture (especially music), and am planning a trip to Ireland.

It seems to me like I'm the odd one out in my generation. Other kids are getting in trouble and being stupid. Just last night, a kid got charged with a felony, because he was stupid enough to set off the fire extinguisher in the stairwell of my dorm, which subsequently set off the fire alarms, which we found out to be broken, because they wouldn't turn off! I was awake from 1:30 in the morning until 6:19AM when the alarm was finally cut off. I then had to wake up at 7 to make the 2 hour drive home. (Hey! This could turn out to be an interesting story!)

My question to you is this. What is your opinion of my generation? Do you feel optimism? Pessimism? Impending doom?

Taylor G.


You are off to a fast start, Taylor, and evidently you've discovered the pleasure of learning which might prove to be a hindrance and keep you from settling down in a career since you'll always be anxious to learn a new one, but never mind that. Learning is not something imposed by others, it's the mind fascinated and engaged on its own, and I wish you well. (Read some of those mournful and delightful Irish memoirs of the drunken father, the long-suffering mother, the terrible priests.) As for the kid who shot off the fire extinguisher, he isn't going to be actually charged with a felony----- they're just saying that to scare him ---- and he was simply drunk and that doesn't reflect on your generation whatsoever.

It's too early to tell about your generation, of course, but it may come to regret having followed my generation and having to fix what we messed up. Mine is idealistic, or thinks it is, or wanted to be, but we got handed the Vietnam war by the Greatest Generation which completely misjudged the situation and we haven't quite recovered from it yet. My generation was deeply engaged in politics, as a result of the civil rights struggle and Vietnam, and when I look at American politics today and the demagoguery and sheer trashiness, it's discouraging. Members of my generation fought long and hard to keep ROTC off college campuses, a wrong-headed campaign born out of anger against the war, and thereby deprived a lot of young men and women of valuable training, and also wasted time in needless controversy. So much righteousness and so little to show for it. The current debate over health care reform stands as the strangest and silliest in my memory. On the other hand, when I think that a 19-year-old in Knoxville is fluent in Japanese and turning toward Ireland, I feel hope for the future. I'm an optimist, of course. Being a parent of an 11-year-old, I'm more or less obliged to be. So stay out of trouble, keep your grades up, and enjoy your college years. And then report back.


Dear Taylor,

With your inquisitive nature and optimistic attitude
you'll do well no matter what you choose to do in

As far as Ireland, I've only visited once, but it's a
wonderful place, mostly because of its people.
They are storytellers with much to say.

As far as your generation, I raised five children
(four GEN X; one GEN Y), and can say that
their temperament was what determined their
success. They all had the same opportunities, but
some succeeded more than others.

I have also taught teens sailing for many years,
kids from the poorest to the wealthy, and I found it
was also their temperament and attitude that determined

Best of luck and good wishes on this journey we
call "LIFE!"

San Clemente, CA

Having been a college student (and Air Force cadet) in the mid-1980s, I can provide witness that people have set off fire extinguishers in dorms for many years. My memories of having to stand outside until the all-clears are nostalgically fond; this very day I told a story of such an event at an office potluck luncheon. Taylor, do be sure you enter the ROTC summer training with an attitude of demonstrating your qualities in full, afresh, to the new peers and instructors who will be evaluating you during that 30 days. I "rested on laurels" established at the home university, thought of summer training as one last box to check, and washed out. As GK says, do enjoy your college years.

dear taylor,

as a UT alum i am so proud of the path that you have chosen. lots of distractions for undergrads in knoxville and you seem to have your nose planted to the right grindstone.

your concerns are valid and most leaders will worry about the performance of their peers. with your generation represented by the likes of you my hopes are lifted. at the very least you are willing to seek advice from those that have passed some milestones and learned through trial and error.

keep looking around at your world, learn new things all the time and have some fun in the process. you and yours will be fine.

jacksboro, tn

Dear Taylor,

What can one generation say about another? For one thing, we don't even have a real definition for the term "generation". So maybe we could ask, What do we think of our kids and their friends and other people of similar age of whom we have heard, or have seen depicted in some film or book or slanderous tweet? Well, a physicist might say their distribution function isn't very strongly peaked. An anthropologist might say the culture is evolving and that the shift shows up first in the kids' behavior, who have less invested in the status quo than do their parents. A TV marketing executive might say something else again, and so on and on.

I would say we never get it right; that every generation accepts or rejects various elements of its heritage without really understanding. It would be nice if we could do a better job of identifying what should be preserved and what should be tossed; what to encourage, what to ignore, and what to oppose. But why should your cohort plan any better than we did, or our parents did, or their parents? Indeed, the electronic distractions we have developed and placed in your hands may very well make it hard to do even as well.

Our generation's opinion of yours may be favorable or unfavorable, but what does that matter? Rather than worry about what our generation thinks of you, you should be concerned about what your children's opinion of you will be when they take over. If we inhabited a just world, you would have us in the dock and we would be struggling to address a rather long and complex indictment. You don't want to have that same misgiving when you reach our age, do you?

The important thing is, you will have to take over as we slip away. So: grasp the responsibility your elders hand you, prepare to pass responsibility on to your children in turn, and while it is in your hands do what you can to prune away the cruddy bits. Your resume so far suggests you are pretty well suited to the job.

It also impresses me that you have not presented us with an indictment, a forbearance that I for one appreciate very much. On behalf of "my" generation, thank you.

Pleasanton, CA

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