Generation gap more visible now in college

by Mark

(U-WIRE) STATE COLLEGE, Penn. — Every year in this country a new class of high school seniors graduates. These fresh new faces will all pursue different ways to go about living their lives. Some will face the real world immediately and others will go to college. As if preparing for a war, the troops march off to their bases by the millions.
It’s almost as if these kids are a group of army recruits or draftees on the train to boot camp and eventually war. Some come equipped with the optimism and naive zeal to take on the world. Some are frightened and homesick. And some are just waiting to see what their next card is. After boot camp is through and the wars are over the trains roll back into town, and some lucky ones come back in one piece. They may be a bit bruised, battered and disillusioned, but they made it.
Now entering my fourth year of college I’ve grown more wary about things and have begun to notice aspects of college life that I never really thought about before. The two freshman classes that came in right after my first year I paid no attention to. But this year for some reason the freshman class intrigues me. Maybe the summer has something to do with my newfound fascination with Penn State’s future scholars.
There is something eerily foreign about these first-year students to me and to others close to me who share the same confused enchantment I do. Although I only graduated from high school in 1995, there is an undeniable breach between my freshman brethren and me. The majority of them are only three years younger than I am, a difference that will become completely negligible and meaningless in about 10 years. A link from the chain is missing. I guess my tour of duty is coming to an end.
Last Friday night I went to a fraternity party. I don’t go to fraternities that often anymore, but since this is the summer and the freshmen fascinate me, I went. I was there with my roommate Mike and another one of my friends whom we will cordially refer to as Poppa G.
As we entered the fraternity house loud rap music played to an empty dance floor. After receiving beverages from the bar we talked for a while until it happened.
Like a confused herd they filed into the basement. An ocean of tank tops, Abercrombie buttondowns and baggy jeans spread over the wood-paneled room like a plague. The women at the front of the queue led the crowd of intimidated men walking awkwardly around the bar, and they chattered lightly. They spoke carefully so as to not let anyone know that they were freshmen. They all received their cans of Red Dog and opened them in apprehension. A few faces contorted in slight disgust as they swallowed, others attempted to control their distaste for the fine malt beverage by looking toward the ground as they tasted the bitterness.
As we chuckled at the antics I began to see these kids in a different light. I could imagine them growing younger and younger until in my mind they were all my sister’s age.
Then it struck me. I felt like a perverse old man watching these little girls walk into this sinful house wearing tiny tank tops and make-up. These young women were soldiers sent to be slaughtered on the front lines.
Later that night the DJ for the evening played a Snoop Doggy Dogg song. Mike said something to me that sent my mind into a spin. He turned to me and said, “When this song came out most of these kids were in fifth grade.” I thought about Mike’s comment and realized that the alienation I felt from these kids was not anything abnormal. Actually it makes perfect sense. Even though we grew up only three or four years apart, things have happened to our respective peer groups that have pushed us apart. My peers and I grew up with the Gulf War, the L.A. riots, the death of Kurt Cobain and the infamy of grunge culture. These kids grew up on O.J. Simpson, the Internet, the death of Tupac Shakur and the anti-grunge alterna-glam culture. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s just different. Going to college for the first time supersedes any event in the life of any 18-year-old. Maybe I miss that excitement and newfound wealth of independence.
It’s all a cycle. Someday these freshmen are going to be where I am now. But I’ll be long gone fighting another war.

This opinion’s piece originally ran Thursday in the Daily Collegian (Pennsylvania State University).