Coming of Age: See what’s new with generation Y

BY Staff

Gen Y: a global generation with local sensibility

Profile by Emily Russell

Generation Y the last demographic to be examined in our popular Generations series is a hard group of people to pin down. I should know — I’m one of them.

There is no convenient realm of hindsight to judge us from — no buffer of age to separate our mistakes from our successes. We are entering the workplace going to college and learning how to drive cars. We are still very young almost too young in fact to say anything definitive about.

The average Gen Y-er is coming of age in a complicated world. He or she has witnessed the crumbling of the Soviet Union the fall of the Twin Towers and scandal under the presidencies of Clinton and Bush. Some of us grew up with metal detectors in our schools — I remember bomb drills and school lockdowns as a routine part of my high school education. We are a heavily medicated generation an Internet generation and a generation growing up in a world where safety is no longer taken for granted.

We have every right to be scared. In this age of melting ice caps and monstrous storms someone has to start changing things for the better — and it looks like it’s going to be us. With ourselves as the only stable platform upon which we can stand it’s no wonder that previous generations often accuse us of being self-absorbed.

It’s from those previous generations that we’ve picked up the nickname “Generation Me ” a fitting appellation for the generation that flocks in the millions to such self-promoting sites as MySpace and Facebook. But there are other better reasons to apply such a designation to Gen Y-ers: We are self-sufficient men and women strong in our own beliefs and independent in a way no generation has ever been before.

Raised with limitless options and sources of immediate information Generation Y has learned how to choose for itself. We have learned to be fiscally responsible to value education and to treat other cultures with tolerance and respect. We juggle family fun and fledgling careers and we don’t shy away from heavy loads or difficult problems.

It is then with great pleasure and a good bit of pride that I introduce these five local men and women as a cross-sampling of Generation Y — the inheritors of the world’s problems and its hope for a bright future.

Brooks Perry: 3 generations at the beach

Profile by Jules Norwood

Brooks Perry represents the third generation of a family fortunate enough to sink its roots in the sandy soil of Wrightsville Beach. His grandfather Hugh Perry a World War II veteran had visited the island and decided he would make it his home if he got the chance which he did in the 1950s.

Brooks’ father was born and grew up here as did Brooks. The town has changed Brooks says and the residents and visitors who enjoy the island now need to take responsibility for ensuring that they change the town for the better not for the worse.

The Perry home on Seagull Street was the center of Brooks’ world growing up and he had not only his parents but also his grandparents and a town full of neighbors to keep an eye on him. Like his dad he had the freedom to get around town on his bike as long as he didn’t cross the drawbridge and was home before the streetlights came on.

At 26 he’s among the oldest members of Generation Y also known as the Echo Generation because as children of the baby boomers its members are part of a boom of their own. Numbering more than 75 million they will have tremendous cultural economic and political influence in the coming decades — and they have grown up in a world very different from that of previous generations.

They’ve had access to the Internet since they were old enough to use it and many have had cell phones since they started school. Their access to information and to communication from around the world is unprecedented.

“I think being side by side with people this generation probably is more accepting just for sheer exposure whether it’s the Internet or in a coffee shop ” Brooks says. “It’s more socially acceptable to speak and form relationships with other kinds of people than it would have been in the ’40s and ’50s. If you see someone that you’re interested in you can walk up and say ‘Hey how’s it going?’ and find out a bit about ’em.”

Having that increased contact with other cultures and beliefs online on television and in person has led to greater acceptance of differences as well as giving people insight into why they believe what they do.

“Knowing what’s out there and how other people live can make you appreciate the way you live and let you take a step back and not just take your beliefs for granted ” he says. “You’re that much more proud of the way that you feel.”

The Internet has also given people an opportunity to be more informed and involved politically he said which is vitally important.

“Information is very helpful in becoming educated — following candidates and knowing where they stand on issues and really getting the information that you need to make educated decisions about the way you vote ” Brooks says. “People I know who are 10 15 years older are very disenchanted and don’t like the voting process but I can say that probably 90 percent of my close friends educate themselves and go vote and that’s something I’m really proud of and happy about.”

If you don’t vote you don’t have the right to whine he adds. By being involved and voicing your opinion you have contributed to the process helping to ensure that change is positive not negative.

Sept. 11 2001 he says also had a unifying effect. “It didn’t matter if you were rich poor white black Catholic Protestant Jewish — it didn’t matter. Everybody stopped everybody was watching the TV everybody’s heartstrings were being pulled everybody felt for the families and everyone was scared no matter how big and tough you were. It was such a solidifying event.”

While his generation has sometimes been labeled as having a sense of entitlement and a need for instant gratification Brooks has worked hard to get where he is and thinks in terms of what he has to offer.

When he was in school at UNCW his father and grandfather approached him with an idea.

“They came to me and my dad said he had a buddy who knew about this pizza shop that’s for sale ” Brooks says. His grandmother had recently passed away and Pops was looking for something productive to do with his time. “‘He wants to buy a pizza shop but he’s an 80-year-old man ’ [Dad said.] ‘If he’s the money behind it will you operate it?’ And I said ‘Sure no problem.’”

At 21 he was managing a business. Now as the manager of a surf shop on Wrightsville Beach Brooks says the experience helped him learn the ins and outs of doing business.

It’s clear where Brooks learned his work ethic and his way of treating people — growing up in a house with the two previous generations he had little choice. His grandfather he says at 80 years old was always the first to arrive at the pizza shop in the morning.

“I feel very lucky and don’t take it for granted a bit … I think I’m sort of in the minority having parents who are still married; I grew up in a two-parent household. I actually had my grandparents living above me so everything we did someone was there for me ” he says.

Whether it was a kind word or quiet acceptance he learned through positive reinforcement rather than punishment. “A lot of the things I did and tried to do and the way I conducted myself sort of … you knew you had both parents there. My sister and I both they were always there and patting us on the back and ‘good-jobbing’ us and I think both of us really strived to get the pats on the back more so than we feared the pops on the bottom if we weren’t behaving.”

Now married Brooks worries about things like mortgage payments job security and benefits. He wants to provide for his family and he hopes that when he has kids they will be able to enjoy Wrightsville Beach as he has.

“Just being involved and not letting your community spiral out of control to the point where ten years from now you’re going ‘What happened? This place was cool at one time what’s going on?’” If everyone would stop to consider whether their actions have a positive impact or a negative one it would make a huge difference he says.

“I saw a guy yesterday come down the street crush a beer and toss the can over his shoulder ” he says. “I think that this beach is beautiful and wonderful; it’s a blessing to those who live here or are able to visit. I think it’s super important for people to respect the place and leave it as good or better than it was when they got here. This place is attractive for a reason but it won’t stay like that by itself. Everybody has to be active in keeping it that way. I’m the third generation and I’d like for the generations after me to be able to enjoy it.”

Kat Daughtry: Vintage Y

Profile by Richard Leder

“Our generation has so much stress on our shoulders. Everybody’s saying ‘You guys are our future.’ Well we are the future and we’ve got a lot planned. The environment global warming Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth hybrid cars energy independence we’re moving along but our generation is going to have to take the next big step forward.”

Katherine “Kat” Daughtry was born July 26 1991 a birth date that distinguishes her as the youngest Gen Y-er in our Generations series and so the youngest of all our interviewees. But don’t let her age fool you. She is smart focused and driven well beyond her 16 years. She is vintage Gen Y.

She was born in Wilmington and lived in Landfall until she was 9 years old at which time she moved to Florida with her mother. She returned to Wilmington at 13 to live with her father and younger brother (also a Gen Y-er) and attended Noble Middle School. She lives on Wrightsville Beach rides horses competitively and is a rising junior at New Hanover High School where she is preparing to enter its acclaimed and challenging Lyceum program featuring an advanced self-motivational/peer group relationship learning system. Self-motivation a classic Gen Y attribute will be no problem for Kat.

“Honestly being successful in life is important to me. Doing what you want to do and being good at it. That includes being with my family going to church and education. Education is really important to me.”

College and graduate school are definitely part of her plan. She intends to become something special and wants to be good at it because being good is a measure of success.

“I want to do something that I like that I enjoy. I don’t want to be stuck in my 30s just not happy. I’ve thought about the medical field being a doctor a psychiatrist. I’ve thought about being an equine vet. I’ve thought about government maybe taking a position as a floor leader in congress or an environmental lobbyist. I’m used to the hectic lifestyle so I think I’d fit right in.”

And when she has attained the level of success to which she aspires? “My friends feel the same way ” Kat says. “One day we’re going to change the world.”

It’s a world that needs changing according to Kat. She remembers the rude awakening of 9/11 has serious concerns about the environment and is worried about the war in Iraq (she has a 36-year-old sister on active military duty in Atlanta). “The world is a crazy place right now ” says Kat. “We’re facing a lot of problems. Awareness is a big deal. First thing in solving a problem is you have to make sure everybody knows there’s a problem.”

Like the rest of Generation Y Kat will utilize technology a birthright of the Y-ers to change the direction of the world … even if the world isn’t ready to be changed.

“Technology and media influence me. My dad (a baby boomer) and I were raised in different environments and we clash sometimes because he didn’t have this much of a media input in his life nowhere near this much technology as I do in mine. Technology is a good thing ” Kat says smiling at her father sitting across the living room during our interview.

Her teachers have also had a big influence on her and her Gen Y friends who discuss the state of the world and their part in it during class. “We talk a lot about it. We can’t always come up with solutions but we know we have to and we want to. In 10 or 15 years it will be our job to come up with the next idea. We want to be part of that. I want to be part of that.” Not only does she want to she intends to. “I’m going to help solve these problems ” she says.

As motivation Ghandi’s quote: “You must be the change you want to see in the world” echoes in her ears. “If we all walked around with that thought in our heads we could do a lot ” Kat says.

Also echoing in her head are the Beatles the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin usually at the same time that she’s watching the news or the Discovery Channel on TV while simultaneously reading Harry Potter or The Great Gatsby chatting on the phone and connecting with her friends online. Multi-tasking another Gen Y trait is right up Kat’s alley.

“I keep up with my friends a lot ” she says. “I have a MySpace. I have a Facebook. I e-mail and text. We’ve been raised into it. It’s our culture. Parents might say ‘Back in my day we didn’t have all that. What would you do if you didn’t have all that?’ But we can’t imagine it. It couldn’t happen in our society.”

She hopes to marry one day and be a mother “if it happens.” If it does family time will be a priority. Eating healthy meals together attending church and participating in athletic activities as a family are all a part of Kat’s picture of a successful life. “The healthier I am all around the better I’ll be able to achieve my goals ” she says.

It’s meeting their own measure of success that seems to define Kat and her young Gen Y friends. For Kat riding horses is the perfect analogy. “I’m good at it ” she says “but I’m not doing it to win. I’m doing it for myself. It betters me in ways I probably couldn’t tell you. You’re riding along and your form is good you look perfect … Being good at it knowing you’re good at it wanting to be good at it. The feeling of success is what motivates me.”

But Kat knows that for now she’s still an open-minded 16-year-old high school junior and that’s fine with her. “I’m open-minded and my friends are open-minded. We’re like clay still moldable. We’re waiting for the world to influence us in our own ways.”

“And then you’re going to influence the world?” I ask.

“Crossing my fingers ” she says.

For this rising Gen Y-er there’s no crossing of fingers about it.

Daniel Reddick: Ambitious Y

Profile by Mary Catherine Logan

Daniel Reddick is a permanent local. As the son of Sue and Gordon “Dee” Reddick owners of Wrightsville Beach landmark Redix 23-year-old Daniel grew up in and around the store and on the beach. “I was 5 or 6 when Dad gave me my first job ” Daniel chuckles. “It was to sweep the parking lot. I think that was about the only thing he knew that I couldn’t mess up.”

From that point on Daniel spent every summer helping out at the family-owned store. By the time he was 13 or 14 he was promoted to work the cash register and restock items and then continued working summers at the store until a few years ago when he decided to make his own way.

“Working for Dad gave me such a good work ethic. [When you’re employed by] your parents you have to set an example for everyone and work extra hard ” says Daniel. “But eventually it was time for me to make it on my own.”

In 1998 he went to Baylor in Chattanooga Tennessee and later Appalachian State University where he majored in business management. It was there that he met his wife Claire.

Eventually the smell of the salt air lured him back to Wrightsville Beach and he and Claire purchased a home in nearby Ogden. Now Daniel works as an insurance agent.

“I think it was Dad that got me into financing. I like helping people and I’m really interested in what I do ” says Daniel.

As the product of a generation not known for pinching pennies Daniel believes that some of his fellow Gen Y-ers are financially clueless.

“Our generation doesn’t understand the value of a dollar. We haven’t had to pay for anything so many people don’t know the concept of saving ” says Daniel. “I think it’s going to be a huge problem down the road for the people whose parents have bought them their first car and everything else.”

Daniel purchased his first car a ’92 Blazer for 3 000 hard-earned dollars.

Gen Y is sometimes categorized as a selfish and impatient generation and Daniel believes the Internet and abundance of instant media are partly to blame. “Some of the problem I think are shows like MTV’s Super Sweet 16 that have kids demanding that their parents buy them $300 000 elephants to have as decorations at their parties. It’s all about me me me ” says Daniel.

As with all time periods and generations Gen Y can’t be completely stereotyped and age is a significant separator even within the Gen Y-ers.

“I don’t think we are all so self-centered ” explains Daniel. “The older people of the generation are not quite as focused on themselves as some of the younger kids.”

Growing up on the beach and in the store alongside two sisters and a brother Daniel learned moral values and sharing at an early age. Later he learned to respect others while living in a college dorm room.

He also learned to use technology when he was very young.

“I don’t know anyone in our generation who doesn’t know how to use the computer. It’s expected ” says Daniel.

Because Gen Y-ers have been exposed to Windows and Macintosh for most if not all of their lives many of their skills are innate.

“We instinctively know how to go figure out a problem. “[The older generations] freak out if something pops up on the screen that shouldn’t be there but our generation just thinks ‘Oh a problem. How can I fix it?’ and moves on ” says Daniel.

One of the changes Daniel has noticed as he’s grown older is the way people look after their children.

“I remember me and all my friends running around when we were 5 and 6 years old with no parents around. We felt safe on the beach. It wasn’t an issue like it is now ” says Daniel. “Of course I’m sure my parents knew people around the beach who were looking after me from time to time.”

The face of education has also changed in recent years. Once a college degree was a rarity but it has now become the norm and the value may have changed. “Going to college doesn’t get you a job anymore ” explains Daniel. “It doesn’t have the same value it used to have.”

Daniel believes Generation Y is a group of people that is more interested in entrepreneurship than getting a nine-to-five white collar job.

“We’re risk takers we’re ambitious and we’re entrepreneurs. We now see the creators of MySpace and Facebook making billions and they are only teenagers. They had an idea took a risk and went with it ” Daniel says.

As for what the future holds Daniel jokes that soon everyone is going to be a Facebook addict.

Gen Y is generally assumed to be more globally aware than previous generations and Daniel agrees “We are the most tolerant of the generations. I think we will be able to brainstorm with everyone rather than just the U.S. see different ideas and collaborate on a world scale. We will further our knowledge and our scientific knowledge and get a lot more done.”

He thinks Gen Y will leave the world in better shape than the way it found it.

“We’re globally aware. We recycle we try to consume less we are not just aware of what’s next door but what’s going on everywhere because eventually we know it will affect us ” says Daniel.

As the second largest generation to only the baby boomers Gen Y takes center stage with 76 million people and Daniel thinks that the majority of those people will be successful in bettering the world. “I expect great things” says Daniel. “I think we’re going to do well.”

Kate & Torrey Hanna: y6 / y4  =  y2

Profile by Marimar McNaughton

To ponder why … or wonder why not?

In a phrase it sums up Kate Hanna’s approach to life.

“Who knows where I’ll be next week?” she says.

Independent adaptable and tolerant Kate Hanna 23 is not your typical impatient skeptical image-driven blunt Gen Y nor is her sister Torrey Hanna 21.

“Torrey has more of an idea of what she wants to do. She’s got a plan ” Kate says.

Both girls born in Colorado have spent their childhood adolescence and now the lion’s share of their young adult lives in Wrightsville Beach.

“I think we are different but a lot of our opinions are very similar ” Kate says. “We were both raised with the same issues same morals and values — family is important very important; friends are very important. We grew up going to church. We both like helping people ” Kate says.

The sisters have been helping people since their early teens when they landed their first jobs as swim instructors and lifeguards. Last season they both served on the Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue Team. Returning for her third year Kate ranked up to lieutenant.

The sisters begin and end each other’s sentences which are often seasoned with “stuff … like … kind of … you know … so” … their thoughts fast forwarding and rewinding like arrows on a remote control device channel surfing from one subject to the next.

Kate who graduated from Elon University where she studied athletic training tends bar in the fall and in the winter waits tables in St. John in the U. S. Virgin Islands at a little seafood saloon called “Woody’s” in Cruz Bay.

“It’s a small little island. I love being on the water ” Kate says.

Being on the water and in the water comes naturally to the sisters. Their father Tom Hanna affectionately calls them his “water babies.”

“Dad loves the fact that we’re both lifeguards down here. He’s out there taking pictures. He likes to call this the lifeguard headquarters over here because when it rains everyone comes over to our house ” Kate says.

“We’re both really into wakeboarding and waterskiing. We started hydro-sliding when we were little and moved up to waterskiing and now we wakeboard a lot ” Torrey says.

“Growing up every weekend we would go out in the boat with our mom and dad and with the family friends … usually Sunday … out to Masonboro ” Kate says.

“We would go up on the beach and play around in the water while our parents sat and talked to their friends ” she says.

“It was always a lot of fun ” Torrey adds.

Growing up on a barrier island has isolated the Hanna sisters from the mainstream yet from their point of view — whether that be from a lifeguard stand on the beach strand or from their father’s waterside deck at Lookout Harbour — they are quick to pinpoint the changing face of their hometown and in the process grasp the great irony of their generation.

“The bigger it gets the harder it is to have distinct character ” Torrey thinks. “Not that we’re losing that we’re just molding into something different. It’s weird for both of us.”

As the town grows and the tide of change threatens to alter its appearance so too does the largest generation 76 million strong struggle with its identity. Fiercely independent by nature yet dependent on technology to communicate the lost … Generation Y is addicted to Facebook a cyber café where long-distance friends meet up in a virtual reality chat.

That ambiguity is not lost on the most educated and simultaneously the most medicated generation of all time.

Though nicknamed the “Internet Generation ” the Hanna sisters say they are not particularly tech savvy.

“We got our first cell phones when we were in high school ” Kate says.

“People can’t live without them ” Torrey remarks.

The question is whether technology is an asset or a handicap.

“I think it’s an asset ” says Kate.

“In some ways it’s a handicap ” Torrey rebuts. “Sometimes it takes away from … a lot of face-to-face contact kind of depersonalizes things ” she adds.

Entering her final year at Appalachian State University Torrey a North Carolina Teaching Fellow plans to travel before she settles into a routine.

“I taught for a week in Jamaica over spring break and fell in love with Jamaica ” Torrey says. “I would really like to have sand on the floor in my first classroom.”

“My plan right now is to backpack through Europe — my graduation present to myself ” Torrey says. She wants to see what else is out there to have an adventure.

“Now is such an ideal time for us to do those kinds of things ” she explains.

Kate is already there. “I’m going to go down to St. John for another year save as much money as I can. This year I want to try to do some more island-hopping ” Kate says.

“I meet people from … you name it. That’s one thing I really like about being down there. Just meeting the different people and getting to know them … I like it too because everyone’s really diverse and I like to meet different types of people ” she says.

Kate’s future is … in a word … fluid.

“I do have goals I just don’t know what they are yet ” she says. “I think about going back to school I enjoy life-guarding very much. I went to school for athletic training and I love athletic training but it’s not something I think I would want to be — an athletic trainer. I’d like to use the stuff I learned there and the classes I took to be a personal trainer but I just don’t really know yet … I might to go back to school and be a P.E. teacher ” she says without eliminating the possibility of nursing.

“Our parents are very supportive of everything we’ve done ” Torrey says. “Both our parents were very independent I think and did their own thing when they were our age so they encouraged us to find ourselves in that way and choose what we want to do ” she says.

“In our generation there is an ideal image not that we strive for that … so many want to live the life that’s portrayed in the movies … the cute little relationships the perfect family the ideal body … it’s very focused on that ” Torrey says. Kate says “We’re both pretty laid-back people. I don’t want people to look at me in certain image. I don’t want to have to fit a category.”

Kari Brown: Atypical Y

Profile by Matt Tomsic

Nineteen-year-old Gen Y-er Kari Brown embodies the best characteristics of her generation while simultaneously demonstrating an individual spirit — an old-school view of technology and values that emphasizes family and self-sacrifice — to chart her own course through life.

It is clear that her values have been shaped by the time she has spent living on Wrightsville Beach. “I love the beach culture ” Brown says. “Everyone seems to know each other and you can ride your bike everywhere.”

She moved to Wrightsville Beach in 2003 during the summer before her sophomore year in high school attended Hoggard and excelled using self-motivation a key Generation Y trait to propel her forward. “I pushed myself academically ” she says.

After graduation in 2006 Brown wasn’t sure what she wanted to study in college and did something that few Gen Y-ers do — she took a year off from school. “The temptation is to follow the herd and do what everybody else is doing but I had no idea what I wanted to do ” Brown says. The year off allowed her to focus on her artwork a hobby that she picked up when she was a sophomore at Hoggard.

“It’s my escape from regular school ” she says. “In art there’s no such thing as right or wrong there’s only not getting the same result you expected when you went into something. But [even then] you can always turn it into something beautiful.”

Brown also tutored biology at Hoggard and volunteered with Dreams of Wilmington teaching art to underprivileged Hispanic children. “I value being part of something bigger than myself and volunteering just for the joy of serving someone else is important to me ” she says.

Self-sacrifice is not a typical Generation Y quality but Brown thinks it’s one that people should display more often. “We’ve become a generation and a nation that isn’t willing to give up our part for the sake of the whole ” she says. “I hope we come out of that and become more community-oriented and care for others more.”

Also during her year off Brown focused on spending time with her family another atypical Gen Y trait. “To have that last year with my younger siblings where I wasn’t all tied up in the books I could actually talk to them anytime and help them with their homework ” recalls Brown. “After I get to college it won’t be the same with the family dynamic because I’ll only be there three months of the year.”

The oldest of five children Brown loves being a part of a big family — three younger sisters and one younger brother — and her family values are an important part of who she is. “My family is really important to me ” she says. “There are so many different roles you get to play as a big sister. You get a lot of babysitting and you’re a role model and you learn about leadership and loving.”

Brown wants to have her own family at some point and instill in her children the same values her parents instilled in her. “I want [my children] to really try to be a part of a community that will hold them accountable. I want to love them enough to challenge them if they’re not doing what’s right ” she says.

As for technology she is the first to admit she isn’t as savvy as most people her age. “I’m one of those anti-technology people even though I know it’s necessary and useful. I didn’t learn how to e-mail until the end of my junior year ” she says laughing. “And that was only to keep in touch with a foreign exchange student from Germany that I knew.”

Brown is hesitant to embrace some of the technological advances that Generation Y has grown up with making her unique in what some call the “Net Generation.” “Technology is pushing things so people become more isolated even though they’re connected to everyone ” she says.

Brown values personal and face-to-face interactions with her friends over instant messaging e-mail or even phone conversations. “Most of the time we just call each other to plan stuff and don’t talk that much on the phone ” says Brown. “We talk when we’re hanging out.”

These kinds of personal interactions are one reason why Wrightsville Beach is so special to her. “That’s something I love about Wrightsville Beach. The only technology you need is a bike and you’ll run into people. It’s more of a culture that still gets to know each other and sees each other; it’s not all over a Webcam.”

Although her self-motivation and open-mindedness fit the Generation Y profile in some ways she goes hard against the Gen Y grain.

Generation Y has been negatively described as self-centered apathetic and more likely to sit inside and disappear into the technology it’s grown up with but Brown’s sense of self-sacrifice family values and desire to go outside of her comfort zone and experience life on her own make her someone ready to tackle the future without lugging the weight of her generation behind her.

As for that future Brown would like to see some changes. “We need to become a generation that actually searches out the issues and looks past campaigns to see what people are really about and check that with our value system and then act on it ” she says. “So many people our age know little bits and pieces or decide to cling to one side for no particular reason.”

She would also like to see her generation learn from past mistakes and grow as a group of people. “For the future I hope that we actually think before we act and that our thinking will have a basis in a deeper foundation that we will really learn to love people even when we don’t understand them that we will be willing to ask for help and get wisdom from those who’ve gone before us but be able to grow and have new ideas.”