The Millennial Boom

The Post-Gazette began reporting on a classroom of first grade children in 1989 — the Class of 2000.
Jill Fischer shows off her first-grade pupils in 1989 at Lincoln Elementary (now Bellevue Elementary) in Bellevue, Pa. Front row, from left: Ken Mills, Orlena (Shoemaker) Luick, Alexis Visconti, Pat Duffy, Andy Horn, Anthony Di Lembo, Brian Peterson, Kristalina "Krissy" (Hammond) Greene. Back row, left to right: Nik Reel, Amy White, Terri Mathews, Katie (Lobban) Lord, Karissa Kutcher, Steven Meyer, Melissa (Slawiak) Cherry, Katy Blaney, Richard Taylor, Jody (Bryant) Baty, Brian Calhoun. John Beale/Post-Gazette

Liberal, tech-savvy generation takes center stage in the American population

No generation has been more exhaustively analyzed at a young age than the millennials, the Americans born between 1980 and 2000.

In just one recent day, these headlines appeared: Will millennials save the country or sabotage it?; Millennials like some majors more than their baby boomer parents; Businesses use different tactics to lure cautious millennials to buy; and A third of millennials whip out their cellphones in public “for no particular reason.”

In stories that seem to hit the Web every hour, millennials have been called selfish, narcissistic and lazy, as well as altruistic, hardworking and kind.

“New generations always attract fear and resentment from older people,” said Neil Howe, a historian and head of the consulting firm Lifecourse Associates in Great Falls, Va. “Millennials actually enjoy being in the public eye and being talked about, and one of their cardinal traits is this idea of collective specialness.”

Special or not, this year, the millennials became the biggest generation in America, consisting of 83.1 million people, nearly 8 million more than the aging baby boomers.

They are coming on strong in Pittsburgh as well, and to bring them to life, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is taking two approaches.

First, we have tracked down members of a previous newspaper project called the Class of 2000, in which we followed a group of students in the Northgate School District from the time they entered first grade in 1988 to when they graduated from high school in 2000. This group is now in its early 30s, and its members make up the oldest edge of the millennials. Second, we are taking a look at some of the graduates from Gateway School District’s Class of 2010, who are in their early 20s.

Together, they will provide a portrait of how local millennials fit the trends that demographers love to talk about — and the ways they differ.

Here are a few of the characteristics that millennials are known for.

Student debt

No generation in America has entered adult life with so much debt hanging over its head.

“The typical student today has debt of about $30,000, which is double the size in real dollars of student debt a generation or so ago,” says Paul Taylor, a former executive at the Pew Research Center and the author of the 2014 book “The Next Generation: Boomers, Millennials and the Looming Generational Showdown.”

And that debt has sent ripple effects through the generation’s other behaviors, he says.

“This is a part of a syndrome where young adults are taking longer to reach the traditional milestones of adulthood — finding a job, getting married, buying a house, buying a car. And one of the reasons for that is this albatross of student debt.”

The only thing that is worse than having the debt, Mr. Taylor says, is not having a college degree at all.

“The income gap between college-educated and non-college-educated people is bigger than ever before,” he says. “The only thing that is more expensive than going to college is not going to college.”

Political orientation

The millennials are the most politically liberal generation since the World War II generation, demographers say.

But where the World War II cohort was shaped by the Depression to support Franklin Roosevelt’s liberal economic policies, the millennials have been raised to value diversity on social issues, says Morley Winograd, a consultant and co-author of the 2011 book “Millennial Momentum: How a New Generation is Remaking America.”

For the World War II generation, “their liberality was more about economic and political issues than personal attitudes,” he says. “The GI generation learned about other people in the boot camps of WWII and would not exactly be thought of as a tolerant generation.”

Millennials as a group, on the other hand, are very open to same-sex marriage, interracial and interethnic relationships and immigration, partly because 1 in 5 of them is the child of an immigrant, and four out of every 10 are non-Caucasian.

Although some have argued that millennials may grow more conservative as they have children and approach retirement, others doubt it.

Frank Newport, editor in chief at the polling firm Gallup, says one study his organization did of older millennials now in their 30s shows they were just as likely to identify as Democrats in 2013 as they were in 2003, and other work has shown that boomers tend to have the same political orientation today as they did in their 20s.

It’s hard to know what impact this will have on practical politics, though, he says, because Hispanics and minorities have not turned out to vote at the same rate as non-Hispanic whites. “If the Democrats could get young people and minorities to vote in the same proportions as older white people do, it would make a much bigger difference in elections than it does now.”

Religion and volunteerism

The decline of traditional religious groups in America has been well-documented, but millennials have brought that trend into sharp relief. More than 30 percent of this age group say they aren’t affiliated with any religion, a subset known as the “nones.”

Although there is no evidence that this separation from religion has caused millennials to engage in less volunteer or charitable work than previous generations, there also are no signs that they are especially altrustic, says Mr. Taylor. “Some cynics have said that if volunteerism has gone up at all, it’s because high schools have made it a requirement for graduation.”

The way in which younger people carry out volunteer work is very different, though, he says.

“Someone described millennials as the first pre-Copernican generation, because the universe really can revolve around them,” he says. “They can go online, and find whatever group is important to them and they can place themselves in that network.”


Many millennials simply don’t believe Social Security will be around when they retire.

“By and large today’s taxpayers support today’s retirees, and we’ve gone from a 5 to 1 ratio of workers to retirees several decades ago, to 3 to 1 now, and by the time all the boomers turn 65 we’ll be at 2 to 1, and at that point the math just doesn’t work anymore,” Mr. Taylor says.

The millennial view is not born from an opposition to the goals of Social Security but is a practical forecast, he says. “Young adults see that because of Social Security, grandma is OK, but they are absolutely justified in believing that Social Security is not going to be there for them in the same way. Will it disappear entirely? That’s hard to imagine.”

There has been some recent evidence that millennials are starting to put more emphasis on savings for retirement, but younger millennials especially were hit hard by the recession and still have heavy student debts to deal with.

Despite that gloomy picture, millennials remain a pretty optimistic group, he says.

“I think someone my age would say to them, looking at the economic data, you have been kind of screwed here. And their attitude is, look, it’s going to be just fine, and their empowerment comes from the fact that never before in history has a 20-year-old been able to place himself or herself in the middle of a network of friends and acquaintances, and tell your story any way you want to.”



Read more

Rough approximations of the generations:

NameBirth years
Generation X1965-1979
Baby Boom1946-1964
Silent Generation1925-1945
G.I. Generation1901-1924

About this story

When the Post-Gazette set out to portray America’s biggest generation — the millennials born between 1980 and 2000 — we relied heavily on an earlier initiative.

In 1989, the newspaper began tracking the Class of 2000 in the form of first-graders at tiny Northgate School District, which includes Bellevue and Avalon. We checked in on them each year until they graduated at the close of the millennium.

From left, Richard Taylor, Nik Reel, Andy Horn, Katy Blaney, Kristalina "Krissy" (Hammond) Greene, Alexis Visconti and Amy White, posing on the playground in 1990. John Beale/Post-Gazette

This group is now in its early 30s, and its members make up the oldest edge of the millennials. Even a small district loses and gains students through any 12-year span, so we have looked particularly closely at the students who made up the first-grade class in 1988-89 of their newly minted teacher, Jill Fischer. She is now Jill Szafranski and works as manager of math teachers at Think Through Math, a Web-based teaching initiative headquartered on the North Side.

The Northgate job was her first out of college, and it was a great learning experience, she said. “There were a lot of kids who had some tough home situations, but the school provided consistency. They knew when they came to school what was going to happen, when sometimes they didn’t know what was going to happen at home. They knew when they were in school they were safe.”

Because the younger and older people born into any generation are often quite different from each other, we also interviewed some of the graduates from Gateway School District’s Class of 2010, who are now in their early 20s.

Together, they provide a rich portrait of how local millennials fit the trends that demographers love to talk about — and the ways they differ.

— Mark Roth

Class of 2000

A high school dropout forges a new life with the help of the Army and his own drive

Much of Ken Mills’ life has been shaped by what he saw on Sept. 11, 2001, when he was suspended 120 feet in the air.

He was working at what he hoped would be his newfound career, restoring stained glass. Standing on scaffolding outside a Catholic cathedral in Danbury, Conn., he saw people on the street below suddenly gesticulating and talking. And then he looked back over his shoulder and saw a plume of smoke rising above New York City, 65 miles away.

It was the pall from the first of two planes that struck the World Trade Center. The terrorist attack changed his life in two ways. First, he said, it aggravated a recession and helped dry up potential stained-glass jobs. Second, it encouraged him after he had come back to Pittsburgh to consider enlisting in the Army.

He joined in October 2001 and eventually was assigned to a base in Alaska, where he learned how to become an air traffic controller. He left the Army after suffering a knee injury during a winter training exercise. Eventually, he landed an air traffic job at Bolton Field near Columbus, Ohio, handling takeoffs and landings for smaller aircraft.

Mr. Mills, who just turned 34, recently bought a five-bedroom house in the Columbus suburb of Galloway, where he lives with his girlfriend and her two children. He also shares custody with his ex-wife of their daughters, who are 11 and 12.

In some ways, he fits the trends that mark the millennial generation.

His house is filled with electronic gadgets — two desktops, a laptop for each of his children and himself, computers hooked up to the TV so he can view everything on a big screen. And he only recently bought a house, a move delayed by economic constraints.

In other ways, he differs from his peers.

He’s politically conservative, which puts him at odds with many in his age group. As a whole, 51 percent of millennials “tilt Democratic,” according to the Pew Research Center, while only 35 percent “tilt Republican.”

“I would call myself a conservative with a heart,” he said. “I do believe that our country is based upon do for yourself and when you absolutely cannot, then you can use the [government aid] systems that are in place.”

“I grew up on welfare and very poor,” he said, and dropped out of high school in the 10th grade. “I was one of those kids who had the Kmart shoes and was on the free lunch program.”

While he never went to college, that isn’t all bad, he said. “I make a decent living, but I had to pull together every cent I had for a mortgage, and if I’d had another $100,000 in [student] debt, I don’t know what would have happened.”

Mouse over images to see what the students look like today.

John Beale/Post-Gazette
Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette
Ken Mills in 1989

Personal trainer has worn many hats on his journey through the world of work

If changing jobs frequently is the new normal for the millennial generation, Nikolaus Reel could be the poster child.

Since graduating from North Hills High School in 2000, Mr. Reel has worked as a grocery store cashier, a roofer, a pizza shop employee, a parts runner for a heating and ventilating firm, a steel company worker, a security guard, a bodyguard and, now, a personal trainer.

While that number of jobs isn’t unusual for someone of his generation, Mr. Reel said there is one other important factor in his life journey: He was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as an adult, after he had dropped out of California University of Pennsylvania as a freshman.

Mr. Reel, 34, said two of his major problems at California were procrastination and only working hard on some courses — both typical effects of ADHD.

“In high school, my motto was ‘Never do today what you can do tomorrow and never do tomorrow what you can do the next day.’ Back then, my parents would push me to stay on track, but at college, I had zero support structure. And if I’m not interested in the subject, I have a hard time delving into it and devoting any time to it.”

Concerned after he dropped out, his parents persuaded him to get tested. The doctor told him he met the criteria for ADHD and recommended he go on medication.

He refused. “I’ve tried to use [the ADHD] as an advantage and not a disadvantage, so I’ve chosen careers that require you to be high energy and mobile. I tell most people I can run full steam all day as long as I’m up and moving, but if I’m at a desk, forget it, I’m asleep.”

Mr. Reel, who is descended from the first settler in Ross, German-born Casper Reel, fits two other millennial trends: He lived with his wife, Shelley, for several years before they got married, and he delayed buying a house until a few years ago.

His story also demonstrates that high student debt doesn’t just afflict those who go to traditional four-year colleges.

Mr. Reel used the online Bryan University to get his training in personal fitness and ended up with $30,000 in loans. To have time for class work, he cut back to part-time security guard employment, and “having a fiancee and an apartment and bills, I took the maximum amount of student loan and partially lived off that.”

He still owes $26,000 on his student loan and pays $360 a month on it, as well as carrying a mortgage.

“I think the people in power think you’re going to come right out of school to get a house and get a job, and it’s not feasible nowadays. Kids get out of college, and most come right back to live with their parents, and they have $45,000 in student debt and that’s half a mortgage.”

John Beale/Post-Gazette
Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette
Nik Reel in 1989

A young missionary takes on clean water issues in Bolivia

When it comes to religion, the millennial generation is known for its “nones” — young people who aren’t affiliated with any faith.

But that obscures the fact that most millennials — almost 6 out of every 10 — still identify as Christian.

Chenoa Moriah Stock Claure, 34, is planted firmly in that majority. The daughter of Presbyterian ministers, she works as a water rights advocate in Bolivia for the Joining Hands program, an international mission sponsored by the Presbyterian Church USA. Her current focus is on clean water, particularly trying to lessen contamination from mining operations in the Andes.

Going to Bolivia in 2011 also brought about another big change in her life. While waiting to play an Ultimate Frisbee game one day, she caught sight of a young rock climber pedaling by on his bike. In August, she married Jose Luis Claure in an outdoor ceremony at East Liberty Presbyterian Church here. The couple is now back in Bolivia, where he works as a bank credit risk analyst and helps run a company that leads mountaineering and glacier climbing expeditions.

During an interview in Pittsburgh, Mr. Claure made it clear that not all demographic trends are global. While getting married in their 30s fits the pattern of American millennials, Mr. Claure said he’s an exception in Bolivia. “People get married early in my country, like at 19. There is an attitude that you’ve missed the boat if you are in your mid-30s and not married yet.”

Mrs. Stock Claure has been involved in international mission activities since she got out of Wittenberg University in Ohio in 2004. She worked initially as a Presbyterian volunteer teaching English in Christian schools in Kerala, India. Then, in 2006, she was hired by Joining Hands to work with people in Sri Lanka who were struggling to maintain their property rights after the devastation of the 2004 tsunami and the impact of the nation’s 25-year civil war.

After four years there, she moved to Bolivia to focus on water rights. In the mountainous areas of the landlocked country, the hillsides are pockmarked by mines dug to extract gold, silver, tin, zinc, copper and other metals, and the streams and rivers are often contaminated with runoff from the mines.

While her Christian faith has always been a part of her life, she said that many of her classmates in the Northgate School District, encompassing Avalon and Bellevue, did not go to church at all, which helps explain the dropoff in religious attendance in her age group today. And even those who went to church as children may not attend now, she said.

“We’re a little more independent [than other generations], so we’re not going to go to church just because our families did. Church has to be something that calls you, and I think the regular church services have to be more inclusive and more relevant” before millennials will consider attending.

John Beale/Post-Gazette
Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette
Chenoa Stock Claure in 1995

An airline attendant and young mom learns the world is more open-minded than she thought

When Melissa Slawiak Cherry was 6, she acquired a “boyfriend,” and gave him a kiss on the cheek one day outside his house in Bellevue.

Melissa is biracial, with an African-American father and a Polish-American mother, and the boy was white. The next thing she knew, “his mom came out screaming and took him inside and yelled at me to stay away from him. I went inside crying and my mom went over to her house and I could hear them arguing. She came back and said ‘you’re not allowed to hang out with him anymore,’ and I don’t think we ever spoke again.”

It wasn’t until Ms. Cherry moved away from Pittsburgh that she realized not everyone had those kinds of attitudes, and now that she has children of her own, she wants to make sure they can grow up where people are more open-minded.

The millennial generation that she is part of has been described as the most tolerant cohort in America’s history. But Ms. Cherry said her experience has taught her that where her peers grew up and the kinds of family values they were taught are still major factors in their attitudes.

Now 33 and an attendant with American Airlines, Ms. Cherry also is typical of her generation in the wide variety of jobs she has held. Mother of a 13-year-old daughter and a 4-month-old son, she has worked as a waitress, bartender, actress, dancer and dance instructor, as well as separate stints as an airline attendant.

After graduating from Northgate High School in 2000, she went to Virginia Beach. She got married to a graphic designer in 2004, but they divorced in 2012. She now lives in Washington D.C. with her partner, hospital administrator Tone Russell, the father of her new baby.

She isn’t in a rush to get married again, she said. “In my 20s I was the only one who was married and who had kids, while other people were together longer because they wanted to pay off their loans before they decided to get married. I think some people want to wait until everything’s perfect before moving forward with life, and in some cases, it’s because they were close to their parents and they wanted to have as good a family as their parents did.”

She has no regrets about the years she spent auditioning for acting and dancing jobs, or teaching hip-hop moves to dance students, even if that doesn’t become her eventual career.

“I do know people who have kept the same job for years, but the problem with that is that today, there is no such thing as being able to stay with one company, and the companies have no loyalty to us anymore.”

John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Melissa Slawiak Cherry
Melissa Slawiak Cherry in 1989

A rising Hollywood director makes his mark in the world of commercials

Matt Dilmore embodies two seemingly contradictory trends that show up in surveys of the millennial generation.

On the one hand, he is technologically adept. As an up-and-coming Hollywood director making commercials and short films, he has to be. On the other hand, he is not a big fan of social media, and seeks out authentic face-to-face relationships.

That’s one reason it was important for he and his girlfriend, journalist and filmmaker Kelly Loudenberg, to scrap their bicoastal relationship — he was in California and she was in New York — and move in together in the Beachwood neighborhood of Hollywood Hills.

“She and I don’t have a social media presence at all, but I think we make up for that in real, tangible relationships. [Los Angeles] is obviously a very superficial place,” he said, but he thinks “if you’re down to earth and well adjusted,” you can thrive.

Mr. Dilmore, 33, is making a name for himself in the hypercompetitive world of Hollywood. Working as a director for Biscuit Filmworks, he created a Super Bowl ad for Avocados From Mexico this year that Newsweek said was the best spot during the game — a spoof of football draft TV shows in which God presides over different nations choosing wildlife and plants at the dawn of creation. He also won an Emmy for a short film he produced for ESPN about the late Barry Bremen, who was known in the 1970s and ’80s as “The Great Imposter” for posing as a baseball umpire, Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and NBA referee and player.

He recently finished a public service ad that uses humor to argue against texting while driving and filmed a Yoplait commercial in September.

Coming out of the class of 2000 at Northgate High School, Mr. Dilmore got his start in his profession even before he graduated from Ohio University, where he was a telecommunications and film major. As an undergrad, he befriended commercial and music video director Tom Kuntz, and joined him after graduation, helping to create such commercials as the Old Spice “the man your man could smell like” campaign featuring Isaiah Mustafa.

Like many others in his generation, Mr. Dilmore is politically liberal. “I feel like living in [California], we are always viewed as this hippie dippie, weird, ultraliberal state, but being at the forefront of issues like same-sex marriage and immigration and climate change — these are all issues that really mattered to me growing up” in Avalon, where his father is borough manager. “My entire family is Democratic,” he said. “and I feel like the world is now catching up with issues that millennials have been out ahead on for a long time.”

Thomas Ondrey/Post-Gazette
Erik Ian for the Post-Gazette
Matt Dilmore in 1995

A young teacher pursues her passion — and whittles away at her student debt

Sarah Kretzmer is a blocker on a women’s amateur roller derby team in Arizona, spinning around a sloped track wearing roller skates and knee pads.

It’s not her day job, of course, but it is a testament to the adventurous spirit that took her from tiny Northgate School District to Gettsyburg College, the University of Pittsburgh and, eventually, the Cartwright School District in the Phoenix area, where she teaches eighth-grade writing and helps train the district’s newest teachers.

She chose to become a teacher, she said, because “it was driven into my head since I was a little kid that education was the way to get ahead.” And she picked a high-poverty, mostly Latino public school district for her first job because “I came from a working class family, and I think I relate to the economic struggle my students face. It’s a personal mission of mine for these kids to have as many opportunities as a student from a more privileged district.”

Like other members of the millennial generation, Ms. Kretzmer, 33, has paid a stiff price to achieve her dreams.

She left graduate school at Pitt with $72,000 in student debt, which she has arduously whittled down to about $48,000 over the past nine years. The loans have affected other parts of her life: She did not buy her first car until last year, and it won’t be until next year that she can even consider buying a home.

Ms. Kretzmer figures she won’t finish paying off her student loans until two years before she is eligible to retire. “Thank goodness for the state [teacher] retirement plan, because I haven’t been able to save much for retirement.”

She moved up to a teacher training job this year partly because it allows her to earn extra money, but also because of the professional challenge. She wants to make sure new teachers are “effective right away, so they’re successful and stay in the profession. Anywhere from 1 in 5 to 1 in 3 beginning teachers don’t make it, especially in high-poverty districts.”

The financial challenges have not lessened her enjoyment of life, including her participation in the rough and tumble world of roller derby. The amateur teams raise money for charity, and she is excited to have earned a spot on Team Arizona for a national tournament in Orlando, Fla., in December.

Her new boyfriend, who also is on a roller derby team, writes software for e-commerce websites and is involved in an Uber-style startup, PikFly, in which drivers contract to deliver various products to people.

As for herself, she is a late adopter of technology, at least for her generation. “I can navigate social media, but I feel like I’m a little behind the curve, and I didn’t get my first smartphone until a couple years ago. Let’s put it this way: If I had to function without technology, I wouldn’t be lost.”

Tony Tye/Post-Gazette
Michael McNamara for the Post-Gazette
Sarah Kretzmer circa 1992

Brian Calhoun

Brian Calhoun, 33, recently started work as an environmental technician with Michael Baker International. After graduating from North Hills High School, he served six years in the Navy and then used the newest version of the G.I. Bill to pay for his schooling at Robert Morris University, where he got a biology degree last year. He started training as a forensic scientist, but the chemistry was too demanding. Single and living in Emsworth, he is grateful for his federal tuition program. “I try to remind myself how much debt I would have been in; I’m thankful for that, compared to an $80,000 loan to pay off.”



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Brian Calhoun
Brian Calhoun in 1989

Kristalina (Hammond) Greene

Kristalina (Hammond) Greene, 34, has become a career Navy officer, specializing in electronic warfare. After high school, she was attending Allegheny College when a friend pleaded with her to join her in enlisting. “I said, ‘No, no, no, not for me.’ A week later, I was in the Navy.” She now lives with her two daughters in Chesapeake, Va. She is patriotic but shies away from politics. In keeping with others in her generation, “I’m definitely in agreement with the whole open-minded attitude toward different cultures. I can’t be discriminatory toward anybody.”



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Kristalina (Hammond) Greene
Kristalina (Hammond) Greene in 1989

Andy Horn

Andy Horn, 34, started his own home remodeling business nine years ago and lives in Economy, Beaver County. He started working at age 13 with his father, who ran a construction firm in Ben Avon. He graduated from Shaler Area High School in 2000 and went straight to work because "I knew college wouldn’t be a good fit for me." In 2011, a week before he was to get married, he went into convulsions, and doctors found a benign cyst deep in his brain. They safely removed it, and his odds of a recurrence are low. "I feel extremely fortunate." He and wife Tamara have a 3-year-old son, Xavier.



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Andy Horn
Andy Horn in 1989

Terri Mathews

Terri Mathews, 34, went to Slippery Rock University intending to major in computer science. But after three years, she discovered “I would rather chew glass than program.” She left without getting a degree but has never regretted it, becoming an expert administrator for tech companies, where she handles everything from finance to office administration. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., with her boyfriend and works for Yipitdata, a company that analyzes web data for institutional investors. She doesn’t plan on marriage or children. “I would say we do everything that married people do. I don’t feel like, ‘Let’s get married for tax reasons.’ ”



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Terri Mathews
Terri Mathews in 1989

Brian Peterson

Brian Peterson, 34, works as a benefits manager for hypertension drugs at Accredo in Marshall, but if he had his druthers, he would be paid to restore classic Duesenberg cars. “I’ve always been into cars. I still have all of my Matchbox cars in pristine condition.” He is CEO of Sick in the Head Entertainment, a record label that also specializes in short films and does gaming reviews under the name Gamerziine Visits. Mr. Peterson said he remembers being the class clown at Northgate. “Apparently I misbehaved quite a bit. I was the kind who got his desk put in the corner.”



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Brian Peterson
Brian Peterson in 1989

Richard Taylor

Richard Taylor, 34, runs a small customer service group in remote checking for BNY Mellon. He began working for the bank while attending community college and returned there after majoring in computer science at the University of Pittsburgh. He got married in October. When he was still in grade school, his family moved to Oklahoma so his parents could attend Bible college, and he went with them on a mission trip to Zimbabwe. "I really look at where I’ve gotten in my life as a blessing from God. I think that does come from my upbringing.”



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Richard Taylor
Richard Taylor in 1989

Alexis Visconti

Alexis Visconti, 33, has followed her mother’s example in working with disabled people. She is a program specialist at Achieva, working with those who have intellectual disabilities. It’s not what she planned on doing, but after her mother died in a school bus crash in 2008 shielding two disabled children with her own body, Ms. Visconti said, “I am more determined to do what I do now.” She is engaged to her female partner, Jamie Porter, and said her family and friends have been supportive of their relationship. She still hopes someday to become a special education teacher.



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Alexis Visconti
Alexis Visconti in 1989

Amy White

Amy White, 33, is a speech pathologist working in the Pittsburgh schools. She values the education she got at Northgate and the tightknit community there and volunteers to help with the high school musical each year. She got her master’s in 2006 and still shoulders $68,000 in student debt. “I don’t think I could buy a house right now.” Still, she feels her life has been privileged, especially compared with what some of her students are facing, “where there has been abuse in the home or where parents are incarcerated.”



John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Amy White
Amy White in 1989

Jody Bryant

Jody (Bryant) Baty, 33, is a licensed massage therapist in Brooklyn, N.Y. She has been married 14 years and is a dedicated Jehovah’s Witness.




John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Jody (Bryant) Baty
Jody (Bryant) Baty in 1989

Steven Meyer

Steven Meyer, 33, is an audit supervisor for Hilton Hotels and Resorts in Raleigh, N.C. He also teaches adult Bible study classes. He and his wife, Genevieve, have three children, two girls and a boy.




John Beale/Post-Gazette
Courtesy of Steven Meyer
Steven Meyer in 1989


Jill (Fischer) Szafranski, 49, the featured Class of 2000 first grade teacher at Lincoln Elementary in Bellevue, has remained in teaching, but in the last several years has switched her focus to online education. She is the manager of math teachers at a new online company, Think Through Math, based on the North Shore. The Lincoln Elementary job was her first after graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. She and her husband, Gary, live in Adams, Butler County, and have one son.

Patricia (Alsing) Beers is married, works as an office manager and lives in Sharon, Pa.

Katy Lynn Blaney, 33, is engaged, lives in Avalon and gave birth to a baby boy in August.

Anthony Di Lembo, 33, works as an office furniture installer, is single and lives in Bellevue.

Karissa Kutcher, 34, describes herself as “traveling,” and has a 1-year-old daughter.

Class of 2010

Embracing the uncertainty

The only criterion for the student response at the University of Pittsburgh commencement was that it be short.

In his 2- or 3-minute speech at the 2014 graduation ceremony, Louie Al-Hashimi offered his take on the phrase “the real world” — a term that induces fear in plenty of graduates who are entering it.

“What exactly is it that makes this world so real?” Mr. Al-Hashimi asked his fellow graduates. “Is it the long hours on the job? Is it the ever-growing ‘to-do’ list? Or even worse, no longer having a wardrobe full of free T-shirts?”

He concluded, instead, that what marks the real world is uncertainty, and “the best way to deal with that uncertainty is to embrace it,” he said, “because if we learn to embrace whatever uncertainties we face, we will turn them into opportunities to thrive.”

He is, perhaps, his own best example. Now living in Fairfax, Va., Mr. Al-Hashimi, 24, tries to focus on his current interests and occupations rather than worry about what comes next. The 2010 Gateway High School alumnus is a project coach with LaunchGood, a Detroit-based crowdfunding website, and an activities facilitator at a community center in Fairfax.

“It gives me two different perspectives, two different skill sets,” he said in an interview outside of Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning during a visit home to Monroeville.

At Pitt, he studied economics with a minor in political science and certificates in Arabic and global studies. But it was his non-academic activities that he found most fulfilling, including tutoring Somali refugees, studying in Morocco over the summer, working as a resident assistant and serving as president of the Muslim Student Association. For his leadership, he was named one of Pitt’s Omicron Delta Kappa seniors of the year — an honor that also earned him the graduation speaking gig.

With the support of his parents, a few jobs and reduced tuition thanks to his mother’s job at Pitt, he also was able to graduate without student debt, a burden that weighs on most college graduates in the millennial generation.

He moved to Fairfax, near Washington, D.C., to pursue an internship, then added the part-time job at the community center, where he works with young people. When the internship ended, he filled the vacuum with the LaunchGood gig.

LaunchGood, started in October 2013, focuses on Muslim-related projects. Like Kickstarter or Indiegogo, it relies on the kindness of strangers to get project ideas — from an Islamic night light to a legal trust for Adnan Syed, whose imprisonment was chronicled on the popular podcast “Serial” — off the ground.

Unlike those dominant platforms, however, LaunchGood coaches project organizers through the process by reviewing initial proposals and helping them improve their pitches and strategies. That forms the bulk of Mr. Al-Hashimi’s work.

“Overall, I like the mix of the two experiences,” he said. “I’m kind of just taking it in stride, and try not to get caught up in what’s next.”

Courtesy of Louie Al-Hashimi
Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette
Louie Al-Hashimi circa 1996

Naval Academy was perfect choice

To apply to the U.S. Naval Academy, Chima Uwazie needed a nomination from a senator or congressman. So he wrote to Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, but was sick the day of his interview with the congressman. “I guess he trusted me anyway, so he gave me the nomination, and I didn’t have to go to the interview,” Mr. Uwazie said.

While he had never thought about joining the military, Ensign Uwazie said he learned about the Naval Academy during his junior year of high school, and the opportunity piqued his interest. All students receive fully funded tuition, and after graduation, “you automatically have gainful employment,” he noted.

Most members of the millennial generation attending four-year universities graduate with student debt, and not having any loans was “a real advantage coming out of school,” Ensign Uwazie said. “I feel like people in older generations talk about [working] their way through college, and I don’t think that’s possible anymore because it’s so expensive.”

But beyond the financial advantages, he had unique opportunities and experiences at the Naval Academy. He participated in war games with several navies near Hawaii, sang with the Naval Academy Gospel Choir at the Kennedy Center Honors — an event attended by President Barack Obama, Steven Spielberg and Bruno Mars, among others — and joined the judo club.

“In just four years, people became very tight, so that was my favorite part of school, just my friends, and I guess the cool stuff I was able to do while I was there,” the 23-year-old said. “Then, you graduate, and you still see a lot of those people.”

Ensign Uwazie was born in New York state before his family moved to Indiana, Pa., then Monroeville. After graduating from Gateway High School in 2010, he spent a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I., before starting at the academy in Annapolis, Md. Now a commissioned officer, he moved to San Diego for training after graduation and, as of October, is based in Sasebo, Japan, for a 22-month tour. He is required to serve at least five years.

“I just have to move myself and my clothes to Japan. I’m not really settled down anywhere so it’s not a big deal to move,” he said. “This is the best time for me to be doing something like this.”

Courtesy of Chima Uwazie
Photo by Earnie Grafton
Chima Uwazie as a child

Adventurous reporter enjoys keeping her options open

At 23, Shavon Anderson is no stranger to social media. She came of age at a time when virtually anything anyone might want to know is just a tweet, Tumblr post or YouTube video view away.

Even though the Web is a world of instantaneous information, Ms. Anderson said she believes there’s still a place for a well-told story. In fact, it’s a passion that’s taken her from the morning newscast at Gateway High School in Monroeville to the classrooms of Howard University in Washington, D.C., to study broadcast news. Now she’s a nighttime reporter at WGEM-TV in Quincy, Ill., a job she’s held for more than a year.

“When you’re a reporter, you get to do things other people don’t get to do,” she said. “I like being in the know, and I like the access it gives you in terms of being able to walk up to a police scene or make calls to the mayor or the city councilman and solve issues that otherwise wouldn’t be solved if you were an ordinary citizen.”

Climbing the initial rungs of the career ladder was a bit of challenge at first.

“Looking through job descriptions, it was two to three years of experience [is needed], which a college graduate isn’t going to have starting out.”

Her strategy? Pick a smaller place that people might not be familiar with, and apply there. “It worked,” she said. Having a couple of internships on her resume didn’t hurt, either.

She made the move into a one-bedroom apartment in Illinois, with a bundle of student loans to boot. She sold her car to pay for furniture and, along the way, had the support of her parents, who still live in Pittsburgh.

In addition to a strong work ethic (“I really feel like people don’t give us enough credit for being hardworking,” she said about millennials), her generation’s savviness with technology has helped her make an impact in her industry.

“I find myself teaching people who’ve been in the business [about] systems I’ve never worked on before,” she said.

But outside of the workplace, she feels like the ease with which people can discuss societal issues on social media too often keeps them from actually going out into the community and trying to make a difference. As a result, many millennials become “social media activists,” she said, “but it’s staying on social media.”

Ms. Anderson, however, doesn’t want to sit back and let life race by her. She tries to fill her free time exploring her new community with friends and taking road trips to nearby cities, such as Chicago and St. Louis. Maintaining close ties to her parents also is important, especially as an only child. They visit her on occasion, and she returned to Pittsburgh once last year.

And, who knows, she said, maybe she’ll end up back in Pittsburgh, or at least closer, someday. For now, she’s keeping her options open, both professionally and personally.

“I don’t see myself having kids or a family anytime soon, if at all. My generation is now the type they can have a relationship with someone and never get married and be perfectly fine with that,” she said. “I’m just focused on my career right now.”

Courtesy of Shavon Anderson
Courtesy of Shavon Anderson
Shavon Anderson circa 2002

For now, it's all about his career

Answering phones, tackling paperwork, fielding requests — it’s all just part of a day’s work for Paul Korbar, who’s an assistant at a private organization in southwestern Pennsylvania.

But he doesn’t mind the long hours, or the fact that “you never know what your day is going to bring,” he said. From the time he was a kid growing up in Monroeville, Mr. Korbar, 23, knew he wanted to do something in the hospitality industry.

After graduating from Gateway High School in 2010, he studied hospitality management at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He attributes securing a full-time job so soon after college (and so close to home, unlike some of his friends in other fields who had to widen their job searches to other states) to his internships. Before coming on board in January 2014 at his current place of employment, which asked not to be identified, he had two internships there.

For him, having a job is more than just putting in his time to get a paycheck. He strives to foster a relationship with the clients he serves.

“I get to know our members really well,” he said. “Here we all treat each other like family.”

He also sees his position as a chance to learn more about hospitality and as a potential platform to pursue more opportunities. Graduate school is another possibility. He might even like to become a professor someday, he said, so he can teach another generation about the industry he loves.

“But having to pay student loans puts a halt on that.”

Fortunately, he’s had the support of his family to help ease some of the financial strains. Plus, he’s not afraid to work hard to get established and to create the kind of lifestyle that he wants, he said. Starting a family or having extra free time for fun, that can all come later.

He also credits his family for instilling in him a sense of spirituality from a young age.

“Growing up I went to church every Sunday with my family and every holiday. I noticed as I got older I kind of veered away from going to church,” he said. Now he’s back going to church and praying more often after going through a phase of questioning. “God has a plan for everything.”

Likewise, he believes millennials will pass along their own unique sets of beliefs and values to their children someday.

“I think our generation is really the generation that’s breaking the barriers of things. We’re a lot more socially accepting,” he said. “I feel like past generations are the ones [that said], ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that.’ I think we’re the generation that’s going to help change that and instill in our children that that’s life and you have to keep moving.”

Courtesy of Paul Korbar
Andrew Rush/Post-Gazette
Paul Korbar circa 1998

The last word, for now

While all the young adults whose stories we have shared are millennials, the older members of the generation are distinct in many ways from the younger people.

The older group is burdened by student debt, but they emerged from college before the recession hit, and tend to have better jobs and are less likely to still live with their parents.

When older millennials were born, there were no smartphones, Wi-Fi or DVRs. Younger millennials have grown up online, and are much more tied to their smartphones than their older counterparts.

In some cases, they have even been raised by different generations. Older millennials often have boomer parents, where the younger group had GenX parents.

Some see this amalgam as a real advantage for millennials.

“Boomers have given [millennials] the confidence to be optimistic about their ability to make things happen,” say business consultants Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman in their book, “When Generations Collide,” “and Xers have given them just enough skepticism to be cautious.”

As a result, they say, “if you want to remember just one key word to describe millennials, it’s realistic.”

— Mark Roth


Writing: Mark Roth

Mark Roth retired in September 2015 after serving as a senior staff writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, specializing in long-term projects. He also was an editor at the newspaper for more than 20 years and paper's first science editor.
Additional Writing: Elizabeth Bloom, Sara Bauknecht
Photography: Andrew Rush
Editing: Virginia Linn
Development: Laura Malt Schneiderman