I cannot tell you for sure what the generational moniker is for students born between the years 1995 and 2000. When I Google it, sometimes they are listed as Gen Y and sometimes as millennials.
This I can tell you, their “identity crisis” notwithstandling, they just might be the next Great Generation, at least when it comes to serving their community and ensuring a safe and adequate blood supply for all of us.
I had the privilege recently of witnessing 16- and 17-year-old students at three local high schools converge on their cafeterias in such large numbers that would have reminded us “older” generations of a rush to enlist to serve in the military because we believed in a cause and the safety of our nation.
I smiled with pride at this new generation of patriots who lined up and rolled up their sleeves to wait sometimes an hour or more for each of them to save up to three lives with their blood donations. Like their predecessors from that “Greatest Generation,” no one had to force them to volunteer or promise them fame or glory.
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No, they just knew what had to be done and they encouraged one another to line up to serve. I am so proud of them for rising to the call for arms and leading the way for some of us parents and grandparents, who might possibly have forgotten just how precious this gift is and that we can truly “save the world” if we follow this generation.
I was amused by a delightful 17-year-old student at Clovis West High School who was donating for the first time. She had just been seated in the donor chair when I walked up to her, and she was obviously very nervous. She had a big smile on her face but couldn’t stay still, allowing her anxiety of donating blood for the very first time to seemingly overwhelm her.
I told her I would stay with her, talk with her and help her through the process. She relaxed a bit as I told her that giving blood is safe and easy. I told her about the domino effect that her selfless act of courage would set in motion as I spoke about how other high school students, just like her, kept my daughter alive for four years as she fought leukemia 20 years ago.
Her anxiety was replaced by a sense of pride and she relaxed even more. She looked up and asked what I do at the blood center.
“I am the CEO.”
“That’s cool,” she responded. “What is a CEO?”
Ah, the innocence of youth! As I continued to speak with her, the phlebotomist slipped the needle painlessly into her left arm so smoothly that the young lady was amazed when I told her the part she was so anxious about was already over. At that moment, a new, lifelong blood donor was born.
I watched this young lady as she went into the blood donor refreshment area, where she met up with other blood donors to eat well-deserved Twinkies. With pride, the students compared their giving-blood experiences. They celebrated their very good work by taking selfies and encouraging other friends to give.
They were excited – overjoyed, really – these new recruits who I’m sure will give blood again and again. I could see they understood they had done something for the greater good and had made a difference for patients in their community, and it felt beyond good.
I can only imagine what the Greatest Generation felt when as teenagers in 1941 they went in droves to sign up for service, also to make a difference. That generation changed the world by fighting for the lives of their neighbors and friends, and for the opportunity to save countless others who they would never meet or know.
Quite simply, they responded to a call because the need was great and they could do something about it.
The Greatest Generation is greatly admired and without equal. But I witnessed at high school blood drives what may be the emergence of that same spirit that was passed down to their great-grandchildren.
I still don’t know what to call this generation that seems to be at the end of one generation and the beginning of another. Whatever we call them, let them be known for saving several thousand lives in a week’s time. I am sure they will continue to save countless others. They are leading the way for all of us.
Dean Eller, president and CEO of the Central California Blood Center, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.