NL·Point of View

Entitled? Snowflakes? Hardly. These young graduates take my breath away

I get to watch university students in their natural habitat, and I am thrilled to see the next generation come of age, writes David Sorensen.

I am genuinely thrilled to see the next generation come of age

Anna Gosine and Lucas Walters received awards from Memorial University this week as part of convocation ceremonies. (Memorial University)

Snowflakes! Entitled! Avocado-toast-eating layabouts glued to their phones!

Millennials have become the target du jour of the pundit class the last few years.

Try an internet search and Google completes your thought. "Millennials are ..."

  • … screwed
  • … useless
  • … broke
  • … the therapy generation

You don't have to dig much deeper to find a veritable industry of bashing those born between 1982 and 2004.

"Five really good reasons to hate millennials," blares a Washington Post headline. From the National Post: "This generation is well and truly garbage." "I'm a millennial and my generation sucks," says a columnist in the New York Post.

Frankly, I don't get it. I am a longtime staff member at Memorial University in St. John's and surrounded all day by these 18-to-22-year-olds, and not only do I disagree that this is the worst generation, my experience fills me with cautious optimism, that maybe we are not doomed — as a province and as a species.

In their natural habitat

Not only do I get to observe students in their natural habitat, but over the last few years I've had the opportunity to serve on the committee that chooses the recipient of the Chancellor's Award for undergraduate students. It's one of many honours handed out at spring convocation, which started Tuesday in St. John's, following a session two weeks ago in Corner Brook.

Walters has already earned a reputation for his work as a mental health advocate. (Memorial University)

It's one of the most prestigious awards at Memorial, and recipients, one from the undergraduate student body and one from among grad students, are nominated based on their leadership skills.

This year, like every year since I started this, I am left slack-jawed at the accomplishments of these kids.

Of the 10 nominees this year, there was not one who didn't make me and my fellow committee members shake our heads and question our own life choices, or at least ask what we were doing with our lives at a similar juncture in our younger years.

(Another overwhelming thought: we are all going to work for these people someday.)

Not only are they all volunteering hundreds of hours a year for the causes they believe in, but they also have a laundry list of other activities that keep them busy throughout the semester.

Varsity sports? Check. Leading national organizations? Check. Creating their own companies? Oh, yes, that, too.

Impressive achievements … and they're just graduating

This year's Chancellor's Award recipient for undergrads is Lucas Walters. A volunteer in his hometown of Clarenville since before he hit his teen years, Lucas later took a keen interest in the mental health of his classmates and friends.

He is now one of 12 national representatives on the organization, a mental health advocacy and awareness group. In this role, Lucas not only provides support for peers struggling with mental health issues, by mentoring and speaking to groups of students and delivering mental health education to thousands of university students and staff, but he also helped organize a national summit for more than 250 young leaders from every province and territory for

Gosine, an engineering graduate, started a company after working with Engineers Without Borders in Malawi. (Memorial University)

He's the undergrad representative on the Canadian Psychological Association and volunteers in his class, serving as president of the MUN Psychology Society. Believe me, I don't have the word count in this article to list his volunteer duties or his scholarships.

Another one of the Chancellor's Award nominees was awarded the Leslie Thoms Convocation Award, also one of Memorial's most important student leadership awards (one that we also judge).

This year the Thoms Award went to Anna Gosine, an engineering grad who not only is an excellent student and a volunteer with the Easter Seals since she was 10 or 11, but she also used her engineering knowledge to start a company to address a health care issue she encountered while on an Engineers Without Borders fellowship to Malawi.

She later collaborated with the English School District and the Department of Education to develop new STEM programming for K-12 students.

I'll remind you that Anna and Lucas, like the other nominees for this award, are just graduating university.

Sure, these are the exceptional students.

But they represent a generation that is smart, committed and fearless.

I'm ready to put my faith in them to lead us into the future.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


David Sorensen

Freelance contributor

David Sorensen is a St. John’s writer with a particular interest in Newfoundland’s post-Confederation history.