As roommates for their freshman year at Creighton University, Bridget McElroy and Blair Mitteis will negotiate the usual paths of life together in close confines.
This, despite a not insignificant line of division standing between them.
McElroy was born in the waning days of 1999 while Mitteis was born, like a majority of Creighton’s largest-ever Class of 2022, in the brand-new 21st century. The first big wave of Y2K undergraduates is now arriving on college campuses, turning a page in the admissions rolls on the 20th century.
“No, it’s not really a divide at all,” said Mitteis, who grew up in Omaha. “But it is kind of weird. I do sometimes wish I’d been born in the 1900s. It’s always felt a little like I’m way younger than people who were born in the 1990s, even though it’s just a couple of months.”
McElroy, who grew up in Omaha but later moved to and enrolls from Chandler, Arizona, confessed to a similar feeling, saying she’s always felt the line between the 20th and 21st centuries has conferred some elder status on the former.
“But I know it really doesn’t,” she said. “I mean, I look at someone born in 2001 and look at my birthdate in 1999 and say, ‘Oh, they must be much younger.’ But it’s a few years. There may be something to it, though. With a mom who was a teacher, I grew up remembering overhead projectors, then being introduced to smartboards. Maybe there’s something there.”
Indeed, the New Millennials, or Generation Z, as they are called, are also referred to as the digital natives. The Internet had been invented and mostly well established by the time they were born. When they had acquired their earliest fine motor skills, their hands were eager to manipulate the first smartphones and swipe screens.
AJ Kozlak II, a freshman from the Twin Cities who was born in 2000, was enjoying the President’s Picnic Saturday with his parents, AJ I and Thushanthi Kozlak, and recounting his days as the family’s tech expert.
“I’m a little worried about what’s going to happen when a router goes down at home, now that I’m here,” AJ Kozlak II said with a laugh. “I get a lot of that. If the Wi-Fi is down, I’m the guy.”
Fortunately for mom and dad, he said, he’s got two younger siblings who are quite technologically capable.
Reflecting on the year of his son’s birth, AJ Kozlak I noted the generation was born into anxiety and has dealt with a seemingly unending parade of tragedy — starting with the Y2K scare of a world where technology might roll back to zero — turning out lights and emptying bank accounts — to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, leading to two wars; to the mass shootings at schools, malls, concerts and theaters.
“I remember driving him to school not long after the shooting in Vegas (in October 2017) and asking him what they were talking about in class, among his friends,” AJ I said. “And he said, ‘Dad, it happens all the time.’ It really struck me. And I hope that his is a generation that’s not becoming desensitized to those things but is aware of them and doing something to help people. I think they will be that generation.”
When the world did not come to a cataclysmic halt on Jan. 1, 2000, Jennifer Ecklund was welcomed into the world six days later by her parents, Joe and Liz.
Jennifer, a freshman from Omaha, said she sometimes wishes she’d arrived a week earlier.
“The only reason is because maybe, if I make it through this century, I could say I lived in three centuries,” said Jennifer, whose father, Joe, is director of Academic Success and Educational Opportunity Programs. “Just about everyone here has already lived in two. Three would have been cool.
“But I like being able to say I was born in 2000, too,” she continued. “I feel like that’s a number that means something, that we’re a part of a generation of new movements. We’re a generation that’s going to rev things up.”
The 21st century has meant, in many arenas, a speeding up of life, a push for instant gratification, the advent of a thrumming, twittering world ever in motion.
But at Creighton in the 21st century, as much as in the 20th or the 19th, for that matter, parents of these first-year students, these fresh faces of a new century, know that their children are arriving at a place they hope can give them pause, time for reflection, time to dwell in light and life and to learn to see past the ever-pushing age in which we live.
“The people here are very spiritual, and they’re dedicated to helping these students along,” said Marci McElroy, Bridget McElroy’s mother. “Our older daughter came here 11 years ago and this was the perfect place for her to blossom. She credits a lot of what she’s done to her experiences here and we’re hoping the same for Bridget.”