By Elena Hildebrandt | Student, Drake University 

I am gripped by equal parts of anticipation and paralyzing fear. As one of more than 2 million students expected to earn their first degree in less than two months, I see a new world in front of me. But is that world better or worse than what I’ve experienced in my past 21 years?

Many of you reading this remember your first steps into real adulthood. Finding that first full-time job; truly living on your own, maybe in a new city; having to now pay your way. It hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years. And yet it has changed a lot -- the #MeToo movement, rabid national division, international competition, zero privacy because of ubiquitous technology. As a member of Generation Z (born after the millennials), we are last to the party in competing for jobs with three older generations. We started kindergarten in the shadow of 9/11. We are tempered by the Great Recession. We hope to survive generation-wide crushing college debt.

We of Generation Z are frugal, brand-wary, determined and the anti-millennials. We are hyper focused on getting on with things — completing college in four years and starting a career path because we see what the two generations before us are facing. My generation was born between 1996 and 2011. There are 61 million of us, a million more than millennials. We are too young to have been overstudied like millennials because some of us are still in elementary school. But here are some trends:

  • We are natives to Facebook, online gaming and Netflix. We significantly shop online. We are untrusting of large corporate brands. You’re more likely to see us in a thrift store than buying a shirt with a polo pony logo.

  • We care what brands really stand for. We’ll do the research. No to Photoshop. Yes to images of real people. We’re more likely to buy when a friend recommends, even if we only know the friend through social media. We trust blogs more than traditional advertising.

  • We’re more liberal. We can’t remember when having a black president or a woman at the top of the ticket was uncommon.

  • We’re not naive. We know Snapchat stars are paid and that YouTube follows our every click and swipe.

  • We spend differently. We are likely to save earlier and more than baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. We treat money more like those from the Greatest Generation.

You will remember the excitement and fear of closing the college chapter and opening the career chapter. I am heartened to be among the first in my generation to enter the workforce this summer. My goal is to really make the next 21 years count.

Elena Hildebrandt will graduate from Drake University this month, double majoring in economics and international affairs. She is a native of Des Moines. She can be reached at
Elena.jhildebrandt@gmail.com.