More than 18,000 Idaho students will graduate high school this year. Within the next week, most of them will don a square cap and flip the tassel to the left side as they walk, trot and dance across the commencement stage. For these graduates, it is a time for friends and family to celebrate, and it is a time for the rest of us to reflect — who is the class of 2019?
Walkmans, Blockbuster video and dial-up internet are foreign to this group, while they have always known PlayStations, iPads and Wikipedia. Most of these graduating seniors were born on this side of the new century in 2001. These newly graduating seniors have grown up in a world that changed overnight. And I am not referring to texting instead of calling someone when they want to have a conversation. Our nation, and the rest of the Western world, graduated in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks from fighting against nations and leaders to fighting against ideas.
For their entire lives, and for the first time in our country, we have been in a real war using American soldiers, tanks, bombs and guns to fight against jihadism and intolerance to democracy, Christianity and culture that has spread around the world. They know terrorist threats and school shootings as a fact of life. This is what war means to this generation.
This is a group that grew up figuring things out on their own. They have lived with Google, YouTube and on-demand television to help them learn what they want to know, when they want to know it. They are way more self-content than their older siblings and aunts and uncles. They certainly do not appear to feel entitled like baby boomers or many of the millennials.
They have grown up in a world where identity politics is the norm. And they have shown some resistance to accept the liberal tendencies of the prior generation. Generation Z, as they are called, may share more ideological similarities with Generation X, a generation squeezed between the majority of baby boomers and millennials, than Generation Y. Gen Z seems prepared to help balance out the socialist Millennials that have sucked up a lot of attention lately. Three letters are enough to make this point: AOC.
My outlook on this group described as fiscally responsible, tattoo hating and the most conservative since World War II is quite good. There is promising evidence to suggest this latest coming-of-age generation is more moderate and has favorable views of capitalism. Let us not forget they are entering the labor force with historically low unemployment and increasing wages, including some places paying a minimum wage of $20 an hour.
2020 will be the first election for Generation Z to cast their votes for president. It is expected that many have and will continue to relate to President Donal Trump on issues like national security and jobs. They are averse to taking on student loans and have already saved more than their predecessors. While less than half of these new graduates will go straight to college, they appear to be making smarter choices about getting career and technical education and working in the trades. And many of those that go to college seem to be willing to work part time jobs to avoid student debt. These are great signs for the next few decades in the American economy and their ability to set themselves up to take care of their offspring.
This graduation day for the class of 2019, and what they represent, should be a graduation day for the traditional political parties to wake up and realize who these new class of voters are and what they want to see. We know they have little time for attacks based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or religious preference. For this we should be proud.
As graduation day approaches, it is also time to say “Good luck to the Class of 2019” and to get ready for those coming next — Generation Alpha. Don’t worry too much. This graduating class is much less likely to smoke or drink, engage in promiscuous sexual activity or have children early like their parents or grandparents, so you have some time to absorb the news and hope the best generation for the times ahead is yet to come. I believe they will be more independent, adaptive and tolerant than any prior generation before them. The commercial enterprises, educational institutions and political parties that realize this first and attract them will be the benefactors. This starts in 2020.
Dustin Manwaring is a business and estate planning attorney in Pocatello and served in the Idaho Legislature from 2016-2018.