As a country, we are fighting a pandemic right now. Hundreds of millions of Americans are locked indoors and living through a time of anxiety and uncertainty. Much of the rest of the globe is going through a similar battle and living with the same sense of fear. Even when you look at this situation with optimism, there’s still no denying the impact of COVID-19. We can hope things will get better soon, but one thing is for certain: we are living through history right now.
As a millennial, I know this is one of the most impactful events of my generation. Other generations will be impacted as well, but they also feel the impact from events like Kennedy’s Assassination or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As a generation, these are our shared experiences. You can ask any millennial where they were when they found out about 9/11 and they’ll have an answer. In ten years, you’ll be able to ask us what we did during COVID-19 quarantine, and you’ll get an answer. These aren’t the only events that warrant such a response, there are quite a few moments in our lives that define our experiences as millennials.
Please note, I am from the United States, so these events are very US-centered.
The Death of Princess Diana
Princess Diana of Wales was an interesting character, and her accomplishments during her life should not be forgotten. Sadly, many millennials never came to know her as a person. Instead, we remember our parents gathered around the TV watching in awe as the news of her death was broadcast.
Diana was killed in a car accident caused by the paparazzi. Younger millennials may not have known what was happening, but they felt a sense of grief shared across the globe. This was a moment when we realized how impactful world events can be and the influence the Royal Family has over the world.
Plus, the purple Diana Beanie Baby was released as a result of this event. Many people remember getting that bear. And no, it’s not worth any money. Check eBay.
The turn of the millennium was an important milestone in our lives, and the defining moment for millennials. We all knew we’d change our calendars on January 1st, 2000, but we didn’t know how computers would handle this transition.
Perhaps this is the first millennial problem we encountered, as we thought the technology we had become dependent upon would end the world. Computers would not know how to transition from 1999 to 2000, and as a result they’d become too confused to function. Planes would get lost, missiles would launch themselves, and the power would cut off.
Anyone that lived through the change in millenniums remembers it, and they remember the hysteria surrounding Y2K. In reality, nothing really happened. A couple digital calendars read “January 1, 1900” instead of “January 1, 2000.” That’s about it, and the world kept spinning.
September 11, 2001
When people asked “where were you when you found out about…,” most millennials will fill in the blank with “…the attacks on the World Trade Center.” As a generation, millennials witnessed history change on September 11, 2001.
While watching the news footage, we all knew things were not going to be the same. We felt vulnerable, uncertain, and scared. These shared emotions also brought communities closer together and instilled a sense of patriotism in many Americans.
Regardless of your age, if you’re a millennial you’ve felt the impact of 9/11. Airport security has never been the same, and we’ve seen an ugly side of human behavior. It was the first time we truly knew we were watching history books being written, and it took a long time to adapt to life after the attacks.
George Bush Plans to Invade Iraq
In 2003, when millennials were early in adulthood or becoming young adults, George W. Bush spoke with the nation and declared his intent to invade Iraq. This brought the terms “weapons of mass destruction” into the lexicon of many American, and the fear of these weapons forced anxiety into the lives of millions.
If you don’t remember the specific speech, you knew someone who would be impacted. You might think of the person you knew who was enrolled in the military or the person that would enroll given the needs for troops. Maybe you remember your parents’ fear for your future due to this impending war.
I believe history books will be kind to President Bush and look upon this war recognizing the very real threats imposed by Iraq. The millennial generation will remember the fear and uncertainty for their future before they remember Bush’s intentions.
Some places are well prepared for hurricane season, but the damage caused by Katrina exceeded anything we ever expected. Various cities were hit by the hurricane, but New Orleans was the one hit the hardest. In retrospect, everyone said we should have been prepared, but the lack of preparation resulted in one of the deadliest and expensive storms the US has ever seen.
Other storms have caused similar impacts, but the discussions resulting from Katrina focused on more than just hurricane preparedness. The communities who sustained the most damage were in underserved areas, and people of color were hit harder than anyone else.
Millennials look back on the news coverage of this storm because it escalated quickly. Damages exceeded expectation and relief efforts began shortly after. If you don’t remember where you when Katrina hit land, then you may remember where you were when Kanye West and Mike Meyers asked for support during a Hurricane Katrina telethon. To the shock of everyone, especially Mike Meyers, Kanye West accused President Bush of not caring about black people.
The Virginia Tech Shooting
For millennials, the threat of school violence has always been a grim reality. Depending upon who you ask, Columbine may be the act of violence that opened our eyes to this threat. I do remember Columbine, but being in elementary school, the reality didn’t hit home.
In 2007, 32 people died in a mass shooting on the Virgina Tech campus. At this point in my life, I had begun thinking about college and I knew I’d be a college freshman in the coming years. Campus safety had been a heightened concern since Columbine, but this act of violence reaffirmed the fear and forced people to look into the mental health of students.
The fact of the matter, every millennial has been shaken by a school shooting. It may not be Columbine or Virginia Tech, but there had been one that took the weight of the situation and made each millennial realize the threat of violence is real. This continues to be an issue in America and millennials have grown accustomed to conversations on gun violence and control.
Barack Obama Becomes President
In 2008, George W. Bush was out of the White House. He had his two terms, he had to leave. His replacement was Barack Obama, and his victory marked a moment of social progress in American history. For the first time, our president wasn’t white.
Regardless of your political affiliation, Obama’s election was a monumentous accomplishment in social progress. Older generations never thought they would live to see a black person become president, and Obama turned that dream into a reality.
Millennials have been noted for their emphasis on diversity. For these people, the 2008 election was likely their first time voting. If not, it may have been their second time or the first election they invested attention into. Young voters helped decide the outcome of this election, and knowing we helped put Obama in office meant we played a role in history.
The Royal Wedding
When you thinking of a Royal Wedding, what names comes to mind? For millennials, it’s probably William and Kate. It could be Harry and Megan, but the 2011 wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton seems to be a moment when American millennials became enamored with the Royal Family.
The wedding reached an audience of nearly 2 billion people according to some sources. This means a lot of people dedicated time to the wedding, and Americans who wanted to tune in had to wake up really early. London is 5 hours ahead of New York and 8 hours ahead of Los Angeles, and the wedding took place in the morning in London.
Millennials went wild for Kate’s princess story. Maybe you woke up to watch the wedding, or you remember someone who did. Americans have always cared about the Royal Family to some degree, but this proved we still have a lot of interest in them.
The End of the World
Waking up on December 22, 2012 was a normal morning. The night before, media ran wild with stories of the world ending.
Did anyone really think the world was going to end? Probably not, but there had been a long-circulating theory the world would end on Dec. 21, 2012 because the Mayan calendar predicted it. The world didn’t end, but millions of young Americans celebrated the beginning of their winter break by pretending the world might end.
This wasn’t the first time the world was scheduled to end. The Rapture in 2011 and 06/06/06 had some of us preparing for the apocalypse. No other event had the same impact as Dec. 21, 2012, and people still remember how they actually thought something might happen.
Same-Sex Marriage Becomes Legal
As a generation, millennials have grown up with some representation from the LBGT community. We grew up during the original run of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and watched Ellen become the single-name talk show host of choice. Still, same-sex marriage was not a protected right until 2015.
Same-sex marriage was recognized as a Constitutional right on June 26, 2015. Prior to this time some states recognized same-sex unions, but on that day same-sex unions were recognized on a federal level. As a generation who care about diversity and equality, this was a huge accomplishment.
If you identify with the LGBT community, this moment was likely received with a sense of excitement. Individuals who do not identify with this group likely know someone who does, or understands the importance of this event. Millennials have had their share of challenging moments, but they have also been involved with many positive changes.
We continue to watch the world change in response to COVID-19. This is a defining moment for many generations. Millennials are still new to the workforce, and their office has been forced to adjust to changes in work structure. Other millennials are watching the structure of their classroom change as they’re encouraged to stay indoors.
COVID-19 will become a “shared” memory for us, but a moment in time we all experience differently. Our generation has survived many pivotal events and Gen Z is experiencing one of their defining events this very moment. We all know COVID-19 will have a lasting impact, we just don’t know what that impact will be.
As future generations come to existence and learn about US history, these will be the moments they ask us about. Their exposure will come through text books or Internet research, but millennials experienced all of these events with genuine emotion. Perhaps our wisdom and knowledge will prevent these events from ever happening again. Or, we may tell our stories to grandchildren who will never know a time when gay people couldn’t get married. If you ask any millennial they will know these events, and they will have their own unique way of explaining them.