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Chester County Press

The kids are (probably) alright: Gen Z’s perspective on life and community

07/25/2023 03:54PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Gabbie Burton, Contributing Writer

Growing up means realizing that no one actually knows what they are doing. When you grow up Gen Z, however, all it would seem to take is a quick search and scroll to find an answer to just about any of life’s problems. Ask anyone in Gen Z, and they’d tell you that is not the case. Consider the volatility of the economy, the reality of climate change, and other obstacles while adjusting to adulthood and it can be understood how life still manages to stump this generation just like every one before.

I recently spoke to three close friends to hear what they have to say about life as a Gen Zer facing the modern world and figuring it all out for themselves -- or with the help of a few great friends. Bridget Kyriakos is a 21-year-old Oxford local and student at Towson University in Maryland; Ariana Vazquez is a 21-year-old Oxford local who works as an assistant teacher; and August Pomrenke is a 20-year-old classmate from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Responses have been edited for breadth and clarity.

How do you think our generation and the times we live in compare to previous generations?

Kyriakos: I think it’s a lot harder now. There’s a housing crisis, the value of a dollar is down, money is just a problem now. I feel like our parents don’t understand. They’re like, “We worked hard too,” but it’s tougher now.

Vazquez: It definitely is harder. They don’t fully understand that when they were younger it was easier. Right when you graduate college or right when you graduate high school, you get a job, you can work and get your own place, but it’s not like that now. We have all these expectations put on us that everyone else was able to meet because it was more attainable back then. They think we aren’t working as hard or have the same motivation as they did but it was just easier for a lot of them.

Pomrenke: I think there is a huge difference in how we conduct ourselves. There is just so much that we are exposed to, there is so much more to think about and I think it's a beautiful thing that we’re considering different people’s identities and existences so much.

Something Gen Z has been recognized for is our openness and inclusivity. Do you think our generation is truly as inclusive as we are said to be?

Kyriakos: I think our generation is and it’ll get better too.

Vazquez: It obviously depends where you’re from and who you were raised by, but I think we definitely are more accepting. Now people are realizing that sexuality is a spectrum; that you don’t have to be one or the other.

Pomrenke: Absolutely. I think the access to information and being the first generations to really grow up on the internet has greatly impacted how we exist together. By showing queer identities in the media we are starting to create a less narrow-minded generation with Gen Z.

One issue our generation has been forced to focus on is climate change. How do you view the future when considering the impacts of climate change?

Pomrenke: I am tentative about the future. There are so many things to do at this point and a rapidly expanding set of jobs and responsibilities that there’s no shortage of ability to make your own place in the world which makes me really positive about the future. You mentioned climate change and I’ve seen a lot of progress for people getting into higher education who want to focus on that.

There’s always this threat of climate change, and it’s not something that’s so much of a debate anymore, and it’s a real fact and something that’s very present in people’s minds. That gives me hope for the future workforce that we’re creating, in order to tackle huge environmental issues. What has me more scared and upset about where we’re heading is the timescale -- the speed at which we’re heading towards climate calamity.

Vazquez: That really scares me. We’ve seen what’s been happening with the air quality and at work we haven’t been able to let the kids outside and it’s so important for them to get out there. We saw the effects of that really quickly on the kids and if in the future our kids can’t go outside because the air is so bad, what are we going to do?

If you were a college student in a previous generation how do you think living in that generation would have an impact on you?

Pomrenke: I think it’d be wildly different. There’s just so many things that I have been able to do that I wouldn't feel comfortable doing in other spaces. I can imagine that there would be fewer opportunities for me to express myself in the way that I’ve decided I want to express my masculinity. That kind of scenario is really kind of scary for me. I’d be a much more closed-off human being.

Kyriakos: Being a student would be harder back then. Technology is a big help with classes. I also think everyone is more welcome to be themselves today; it feels more individualistic.

Reflective of the rise in gun violence in the U.S., how do you feel about the threat of violence on campus or at work?

Kyriakos: It goes through periods. Sometimes nothing will happen and then like the next month, multiple shootings will happen within a couple of weeks. On campus, I feel safe, but off campus I don’t know because incidents seem to happen all the time. There have been multiple shootings that I have been near to. You always have to be careful and just hope that it’s not going to happen to you.

Vazquez: It’s definitely scary having to think about these situations because it’s something we always have to be prepared for. Just thinking about having to hide all of my students in the bathroom, or having to get them out the back door or a window very quickly is a frightening thought. I think about how scared they would be and that I would be in the position to have to protect their lives. I don’t want to go through that and I don’t want them to go through that, especially given that they’re so young.

How do you feel about having grown up in this community in Oxford and the changes here after having moved away and experienced what else is out there?

Kyriakos: I’m happy I grew up here. I like living in a city now that I’m older but I’m happy I got to grow up kind of in the country. It’s just authentic and peaceful. I like the small-town vibe.

Vazquez: I don’t like the idea of all of the additional development. Near my house they started construction for a new neighborhood in a cornfield there. It was one of my favorite back roads to go down, and now I’m just going to have to look at the construction and brand-new houses. These developers are trying to shove as many houses into a piece of land as they can.

How do you view your friendships at this stage in your life?

Vazquez: No matter who else you meet or who else you become really close with, no one else will have that really deep connection to you than the people you grew up with. We’ve known each other for so long, we’ve seen each other grow and change as people and as friends so it’s amazing having you as my friends.

Kyriakos: I’ve made friends at college and we’re close, but it’s a different type of close with your hometown friends because you’ve grown up with the same experiences. As long as you have good friendships, that’s all you need.