Motorcycles, Public Service, and the Future of American Millennials

“I worked my way through college and pulled myself up by my bootstraps. Why is your generation so lazy?”

Motorcycles, Public Service, and the Future of American Millennials

If you are a college student or a young professional today, you have probably heard this sentiment expressed by someone of our parents’ generation. I’m also fairly certain that you are tired of hearing the baby boomers and millennials duke it out on the internet.

I don’t think it will take long for everyone to realize the situation college students and young professionals face today. This is not another article about the generation gap. It’s my story, but it’s also our story. It’s more specific to us millinneals and the unique challenges we face.

I took five years off of college. I narrowly was able to graduate high school, and didn’t have high hopes for college. In fact, I was entirely overwhelmed by the bureaucratic world of irresponsible amounts of debt and the sea of different majors that didn’t seem to secure any kind of better future for me. So I did the responsible thing and dropped out of college.

People should be afraid of debt. It doesn’t take an economics degree to realize that it can limit personal freedom. The cost of education is growing to astronomical heights. According to an article last year in U.S. News, if it continues at the same rate, by the year 2030 it will cost $205,000 for an average four year education from a public school. Also, many students are now taking a fifth year to finish their undergraduate degree.

So I chose an alternative goal. I wanted to ride a motorcycle across the country. I worked several dead end food service jobs until I had scrapped enough cash together to buy a 1982 Honda CB 650 Nighthawk from a family friend and set out into the great unknown. I spent a month on the road, and two months working on a farm in North Carolina before returning to my home in Washington State. Along the way, I experienced the vastness and extreme cultural differences that make up the United States of America.

With the recent government shutdown that lasted two weeks, our approval rate of congress is at an all-time low. And it makes sense that with a country this large and cultural values so different that we would have some things to discuss. But how did we get this far? How did our party lines become so divided that we don’t even agree on issues that should not be partisan, like human rights and environmental concern? With the massive amounts of campaign donations from corporations and the wealthy, we have a bought congress who is largely either oblivious or intentionally not acting in the interest of common people in America.

After my cross-country motorcycle trip, I joined AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a team-based national service program. Based out of Vicksburg, Mississippi, I was able to travel with a team to do community service projects. We earned a small stipend that allowed us to experience living near the poverty level. We served in many low income and disaster affected communities.

Through this experience, I learned that access to wealth and education is not equal in this country. This is because of cultural factors, generational poverty and abuse, and a growing economic divide between the rich and the poor in this country. Meanwhile, the powers that be are still trying to grow the G.D.P. while inequality is on the rise. Instead of asking Americans to console each other and build community after 9/11, President Bush encouraged Americans to go shopping!

I don’t have the answers to these things we are facing as young Americans. But, I would wager that we are going to get there together. Due to growing inequality and the recent loss of our manufacturing jobs, it’s not uncommon to hear people of our generation wanting to leave the country. What kind of life are we going to be able to offer for our children with gang violence in our streets, high unemployment, and college loans that cost a lifetime to repay? These are real questions that real Americans are asking themselves. But why not stay and make a difference? The need is most surely here.

I’m now back in school. I was accepted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a transfer student to finish my undergraduate degree. To get here, I had to accept the fact that I was going to have to take out what many would call irresponsible amounts of debt. I’m planning on building my skills, knowledge, and networks, as well as working like a madman to be able to afford it. To me, it’s worth it. But is it worth it for everyone? I don’t know. And in the year 2030?