Hard Work, Competitiveness, and Achieving the American Dream
By Terese Francis, Ed.D, Director of the Writing Center and Co-Coordinator of First Gen Forward at Doane University
May is Older American Month, which celebrates this age group for their “resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties [and whose] stories and contributions help to support and inspire others (OAM, 2021).Even though I do not feel old because I am young at heart, I am an older American. I am one of 72 million Americans in the baby boomer generation who were born between 1946 and 1964 and who range in age from 57- 75. I was born in 1954 which puts me smack dab in the middle of this group of older Americans.
The baby boomer generation is a multicultural group from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds who are known for their hard work ethic, competitiveness, and achieving the American dream. Case in point, I started babysitting at age 10 for fifty cents an hour and I have not stopped working since. Like many other baby boomers, retirement makes me nervous because I am not sure what to do with myself if I am not working. We come to work early and stay late. Hard work defines us.
We are the generation that lived through the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, the Korean, Viet Nam and Cold wars, the moon landing, the assassinations of Medgar Evers, John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy. All of these events made lasting impacts on our lives and shaped who we became. I remember sitting in my fourth-grade class in Santa Ana, California. The janitor rushed in and told us that JFK had been shot. Our teacher started sobbing. We, the students, sat in scared, stunned silence. It upended our world.
I also remember the televised lottery for the draft for the Viet Nam war. We sat in front of the TV and watched birth dates being pulled out of one bowl and the draft number pulled out of another. The year I turned 18, the number one draft pick was my birth date. That was also the year I went to Mexico to study abroad. The military came after me thinking I was a draft dodger. My family had to provide proof that I was a female, not a male who had fled the country to avoid the draft.
The civil rights movement had the biggest impact on me. I moved from California, a very diverse state, to Kentucky, a state that was still segregated. Kentucky began desegregating their schools the following year. My school had daily riots, fights, sit downs in the hallways, and went through five principals in one year. That year had a lasting impact on me and influenced who I am today, what I do for a living, and how I interact with others.
I know this month is focused on celebrating my age group for our successes, stories, and contributions, but ageism has creeped into my life for the first time in subtle ways mostly through comments made in meetings about replacing older employees with young people with fresh ideas. I am always perplexed by the comments because my grandma lived to be 109 and my mother to be 89. Both passed in the past two years. They were the “older Americans” and I was the young one!
DataExplorer. (2021). AARP. http://dataexplorer.aarp.org.
OAM. (2021). A proclamation on older adults month.
The blog posts in Forward. Together. are intended to foster an inclusive community of empathy and curiosity at Doane University by providing a glimpse into various individual identities and worldviews. These are community members’ unique stories and should not be presumed to be the experience of all who share the same identity.