I'm fascinated by the different ways in which people have attempted to define and name my generation. It's a little weird because, as a 1983 baby, I'm generally thought to be right at the start of the Millenials/Generation Y (shudder, hate that name) and don't think I have a whole lot in common with the kids who were born as I was entering (or perhaps finishing high school).
I must note that I speak particularly about my friends: the upper-middle & middle class kids (predominately white, I'll admit) who I went to (public) school with in suburban Indianapolis and liberal Earlham College.
I obviously can't speak for everyone, but I think that my friends and I were particularly shaped by the optimism of the post-Cold War years, those years when universal peace and prosperity seemed possible. We're internationalists, in part because of the spirit of cooperation that dominated, and have (I think) had a very difficult time dealing with the state of the world today because we'd gotten used to being optimistic about the world and everyone in it. I think it's atrocious that the actions of the Bush administration shattered the worldview of so many young Americans by proclaiming that there were EVIL people and places and that we shouldn't be their friend; rather, we should go to war against them! We grew up believing that evil was something like what happened in Kosovo or Rwanda or Somalia and that we should stage humanitarian interventions to protect human rights (even if we didn't realise that that's what we were aiming for at the time). Regime change was a factor of our parent's foreign policy and not ours.
We're also liberal. We grew up being afraid...very afraid...of AIDS, but I think were also pretty well informed about its causes and ways to avoid it. Our health teachers knocked the myths about transmission out of our heads and I think we were the first generation to be exposed to openly gay/lesbian/bisexual, etc. people so young. I think that Rent was a watershed, at least among my friends and I (we were theatre dorks). Being gay was normal, the people were cool and had awesome songs and it was really no big deal when our friends came out of the closet, too. After all, we'd known them all our lives, so a realisation about sexual orientation didn't make them different people in any way. If anything, it made the boys more fun, in that way that women feel a special kinship with men who don't hold any designs on them as more than friends.
And, I think that the events of 9/11 represent a sort of capstone for the kids who remember the optimism and saw it crash to a close. That was a scary day that's been followed by feelings of betrayal (more aimed at our government and less at the rest of the world, where we recognise that we've done a lot of things that should be resented and where inequality and poverty is pervaisive and unacceptable). We're sort of bitter and it sucks to be both nostalgic and pessimistic at the age of 23. Still, I know that there are people and organisations that are doing good work and I'm determined to be one of them.
Plus, now I get to be a Kennedy kid and join the Peace Corps. His optimism in the face of the Cold War resonates pretty loudly, at least with me, and I think among the millions of others who are drawn to the things that Barak Obama 'preaches.' Maybe tomorrow will be better.