I Learned I have a Squad

At the end of the academic year, I like to look back and reflect on what my students have learned and what I have learned from them.

One of the college courses I teach requires my students to deliver a final speech – on a topic of their choice. This happens after 16 weeks of studying communication and the different types / purposes of speeches. They have also gotten to know each other. My students can choose their topic and the purpose – informative, persuasive, entertaining. So it’s always interesting and insightful to see what they choose to talk about. It gives me a peek into what is important to them and what is on their minds.

Some of the themes?

They Care. They care about each other, peers, friends, teammates and about their families. I hear lots of stories and speeches about the important people in their lives – (their squads) mom, dad, Granma and Grandpa, yes, even siblings. Know that you are important and you are role models. Also know what you say to them is valued and influential. Not only do they care about you, but they care what you say to them – and what you think about them. So be kind.

Tolerance. My observation is that this generation of young people is very tolerant and accepting. They are accepting of the obvious differences: race, gender, sexual orientation. But they are also better at being transparent about what is not so apparent – diversity of thought. They realize we can think differently and that’s OK.

Debt. Student loan debt is a huge burden to many of them. Some students are graduating with forty, fifty, sixty thousand dollars in student debt. It’s daunting. And sometimes because they are underemployed, they go on to graduate school and continue to build even more debt. We all need to pause and help out here – even if it is with advice. And my advice to employers out there – if you want to attract and keep talent - two of the best benefits you could offer - 1) tuition reimbursement and 2) student loan assistance.

They are Fashionable. This may sound silly, but I have noticed this trend increasing over the past several years. There was a time when jammie pants and flip-flops reigned. Not so much today. And I don’t view this as narcissistic or materialistic – it’s more about perception and presence. They are aware of the image they present and they take the time to look sharp and put together.

Communication. All the press about how this younger generation is tied to technology and can’t communicate – I think it’s a little blown out of proportion. We all have cell phones and we all use them to click, pin, tweet and text. And sometimes during an awkward moment or two when we don’t know what to say or how to start a conversation, we whip out the mobile device! But we all do value communication, and this generation is no different. In fact, I believe they greatly appreciate feedback and they appreciate it when we listen to each other. Really listen. So we all need to put down the phones, close the laptops, turn off the TVs, turn and look and listen.

What else do they like? They like movies, books, music, food, videos, eating healthy, their pets, travel, their families, and celebrations. I think it's good to know this - since we’re all sharing time, experience and earth space with each other. It’s important to understand, get along with and learn from each other.

Every year I learn something new – just as I hope they do. And this year, I learned more about the some of the people who will be taking over for the future. And I think the future will be shaped by educated, hopeful, caring, non-judgmental men and women. I feel good about that and I feel hopeful. And I hope to be encouraging and supportive to them. I also learned that I have a squad (or two?). And I feel good about that.

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