Musings on the Bern and feeling “old”

The media pundits call Bernie Sanders many things: communist, hippie, whackjob from Vermont, and old man who appeals to kids. Lately, a hot topic in the news is his big appeal to millennials, those mysterious young humans around us aged 34 years or less.

My opinion on age is that it’s really is nothing but a number; maybe I’m just pretending I’m not old.But Bernie doesn’t just appeal to kids – the primaries have shown that – but he’s leading with them; 84% of millennials in the New Hampshire primary voted for him. And he definitely isn’t acting his age; he’s crushing the campaign trail, hosting Saturday Night Live, and shouting his views with pointed fingers and arms as if he’s drawing exclamation points. If you don’t agree with his politics, fine. I think we can all concur that he’s challenging – almost daring – to go outside his 74-year-old box, and duke it out. (None of this is meant as political opinion and/or jabs – just some Cambridge whackjob’s observations).

To some, that’s too extreme. To others, his selling point is that chutzpah he throws down. His ideas aren’t exactly new, yet they seem to irritate “conventionals”; maybe that’s because he seems to reject their status quo. But I think millennials see something in him that feels familiar.

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about the species that is millennials. My biggest study has been the ones that live in my home — my twin sons. They’re fraternal (thank god), and polar opposities but since birth they’ve both been stubborn in the relentless pursuit of their own path, whatever that may be at the time, and sometimes to my parental dismay. These days, I (mostly) cherish that same passion that they still have. I’d summarize it as “I’m here, so deal. I’m doing it my way, and what do you know?”

My other research has been as admissions interviewer for my alma mater. I just finished this year’s cycle and did three in total. Candidate #1 is tall and handsome, yet totally unassuming, and an athlete with  post-concussion syndrome. He suffers constantly from things like dizziness, loss of balance, and nausea. He’s poured everything into his studies to overcompensate for fear that “keeps him up at night” of losing his ability to think like an academic. It’s working: he’s keeping a 3.9 GPA. On the physical side, he’s accepted what he can’t change and looks for compromise. He didn’t make a single excuse. He genuinely seems to frame it as a challenge and he empowers himself to move forward.  I left the interview thinking there’s no way he’ll ever let himself down.

Candidate #2 is shy, but as soon as the conversation got going her eyes sparkled with a love of life that can’t be faked. Two years ago she asked to play on an all-boy Frisbee team – she was refused. So she created her own, and her school now has a girls’ team. She’s the manager, the coach, and a player, the role she seems to dwell on the most. When we met she’d just gotten back from the US National U-20 tryouts. Her self-scouting report was that she wasn’t the best or the worst, but either way it’s been worth it as she’s learned how to advocate for herself.

Candidate #3 has a perfect resume. He’s one of those kids that planned it all out and did all the right things, but he’s still not satisfied. So he reached out to community service and joined a society that helps conduct funerals for the homeless. That’s just one of many other charitable bulletpoints. Talk of “giving back” feels trite, but you can tell the idea was all his. (This was an early decision candidate – he got in.)

I’d bet these young hopefuls and my twins all felt their own “Bern” long before this election cycle.  They’re just not status quo people. They challenge, demand, believe, and at times are hyper-critical for the cause. I work with millennials every day day, and I love the challenges that come up with their presence. I keep hearing about how entitled they are, and maybe I’m just lucky enough to not have come across any of those, because I’m consistently impressed.

The flow of information millennials have had growing up is unprecedented – they’re exposed to things that help them consider the alternatives and the effects – and I’m impressed at how much and how deeply they simply think. It makes me smile, nod my head and even quietly say to myself “yeah!” when I think how much this generation will kick ass, if the robots don’t get us all first. In retrospect, I wish my friends and I had had the oomph – the “Bern” – to break away from the norm and explore the unknown, but I feel we weren’t cognizant of that reality. I couldn’t conceive of cutting the umbilical cord to seize opportunities like a radio gig in the South, to name one of many; my friends have shared similar regrets countless times.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the millennials I know would put us at 17 to shame.

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To me, Bernie’s resonance isn’t about tenets — it’s about character, leadership, and willingness to take a risk. And that same bravado is also what draws people to the other frontrunners. Millennials love them because age shrinks behind his energy, directness, and no BS. If they see stagnation in government, why accept it? Why not support those who at least try their hand at change, as hard and slow as it may be? B-Sand has his “Bern”, and you don’t have to be a twenty-something to feel it.

Is this all really so revolutionary? Of course not. It’s part of the adult voyage: chase your passion, take the road less taken, blah blah blah. This all sounds trite, the stuff of commencement speeches. The examples of Bernie and this millennial essence are just the newest ones, but I find them uniquely refreshing. We all feel our own burn, but it often gets sidetracked in the day to day. We need use it and not lose it, remember things that ignited our own Bern, and chase them as much as we can.

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This is a messy mosaic of thoughts. My point? Believe whatever you want, just don’t stay on the sidelines.
JA

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