Born in 1978, The Millennial Class entered the workforce right before 9/11 — and we’ve earned our spot in this micro-generation. If you haven’t yet read Erica Dhawan’s essay “Why the Hybrid Workforce of the Future Depends on the ‘Geriatric Millennial’” (or the follow-up, “Why I Call Myself a ‘Geriatric Millennial’ — and Why Our Micro-Generation Matters”), be sure to add them to your Medium reading list.
Or read them now.
Dhawan’s pieces are excellent. The leadership expert makes the very clear case that it is the micro-generation of Millennials, born between 1980–1985, who will save the modern (hybrid) workplace. I couldn’t agree more. We are a unique hinge generation that understands both analog and digital communication; and we’re good at both. We use Slack, but we also make eye contact. The piece drew much attention online and across the media. While Dhawan didn’t invent the term “geriatric millennial,” she certainly just got our attention. And deservedly so.
I have to admit, the term stopped me in my tracks. After all, no one likes to be called “geriatric,” especially not a generation who looks better at 40 than we ever imagined we could. (Thank you, great moisturizers, better food, and advancing science.) My own grandmother, “Margie,” 96 years old this summer, scoffs at you if you even call her “old.” Yes, she rides an electric chair up-and-down the steps (I think it’s called a “stairlift,” if I remember the old commercials correctly), but this feisty gal played on a women’s baseball team, a la A League of Their Own, when “the boys went off to war” in the 1940s. I dare you to call her “geriatric.”
That said, it isn’t the term that I object to. I understand how it is being used, to modify the word “millennial.” (I’m a grammar nerd.) No one said we were “geriatrics,” just that we are on the older end of the Millennial spread. We get it. It is that spread, though, that I kindly ask be expanded. Yes, generational age ranges are always a bit subjective; 1980 is a very nice, round number; and we generally think of the Millennials as those raised with cell phones in their pockets. But there is something very special about those of us born in 1978: we were the college Class of 2000.
Known at the time as “The Millennial Class,” we are a unique, milestone cohort. And we are now 43, in 2021. We were the first ones to graduate college in the 21st century. Our caps flew in the air just six months after the Great Y2K Scare, and we stormed into the “workforce of the new millennium,” as it was called by countless commencement speakers and media. At most colleges, we were the first class to have a school email account, in 1996. Four years later, our college graduation gifts were the first flip phones. You could text on them if you pressed the same key over-and-over until the letter you wanted appeared on a small grey screen. We were different from all college classes before us because we were the “Class of the Future.”
And then tragedy struck. A year later, a major world event changed the course of our young professional lives: 9/11. Just getting our feet wet, we were the newbies at the office when the towers fell on that sunny September morning. With the attack came a daunting economic crisis. Of course, it pales in comparison to the mess we’re all in now. But the job market froze. A recession loomed. We had grown up in the peaceful and prosperous 90s. Now, suddenly, we were a nation at war. With our friends in the Class of 2001 (born in 1979), many of us headed to graduate school, horrified by the “real world” and happier to get out of the fray and go back to the hallowed halls from whence we came. America lost her innocence. And so did we. This was not the future we were promised.
In the years that followed — the end of the Bush era, eight years of Hope, the election of the former guy — we have been right by your side, Babies of 1980–1985. We watched with you as life and work migrated to email. We, too, fixed the printer for our managers. We, too, are the on-call I.T. help desk for our parents. We designed websites in HTML and greeted Squarespace and Wix templates with relief. We hate that phone chargers change every damn year. We, too, marveled at the screen when we first used Google Earth. We dated on Craiglist and now on Tinder. We are your generational brothers and sisters. We’re just a year or two older.
“You’re Gen X!” you say. Well, I think officially we’re called “Xennials.” We are as equally Infant Xers as we are Geriatric Millennials. In any case, I think COVID just solidified us as the elder statespeople in this micro-generation. The pandemic seems to have given the Class of 2000 a new distinction, making 1978 the most logical year to start the “geriatric” range. COVID brought us, and only us, the cancellation of our 20-year college reunion. We don’t wear that as a badge of honor; we were devastated. I supposed it was fitting, though, for the Class who opened the curtain on the new millennium, who were sent out into the new frontier to greet all the opportunities — and threats — that would come with the 2000s. For this reason, it is impossible for us ‘78 babies to be Gen X.
Funny, though: we’re really not true Millennials either. As The Great Pause carried on last spring, class reps all across the country scrambled to move the momentous reunion online, cancelling travel plans and tent rentals and field permits. Colleges and universities were forced to forgo the bugle-blowing that would have welcomed The Millennial Class, The Class of 2000, back to campus. They valiantly tried to make digital meet-ups work. But they proved an inevitable let-down. Yes, we know how to Zoom. But Zoom cocktails weren’t a satisfying substitute. I suppose that’s what makes us the most geriatric: we still prefer a handshake and a hug.