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Twenty Millennials on Twenty Years

A millennial asking 20 peers the stories which most shaped their lives.
20 millennials on the 20 news stories that resonate with them most.
20 millennials on the 20 news stories that resonate with them most.

Born around the time MSNBC was founded, my formative years have been shaped by the same significant moments which shaped the network. The past two decades have proven to be a time of immeasurable violence and social turmoil, but also the golden age of rapid technological growth and innovation. For me, the advent of Skype in 2003 has had a great impact on my life.

Until I was eight, I would dial my mormor's (Swedish for grandmother) phone number on a land line so I could talk to her. My family had an international home phone plan, but 60 minutes a month wasn’t cost efficient and faxing letters wasn't convenient — until Skype. My mom put me in front of a laptop one day and said "here, talk to Mormor." It was the first time we could converse almost unlimitedly for a fraction of the price. Today, we are able to call anyone anywhere on a daily basis from our smartphones, making us feel closer (minus the time difference!)

For MSNBC’s 20th anniversary, I asked twenty millennials, all about 20-years-old, what historical or newsworthy event in their lifetime has resonated with them the most. Here are their answers:

John Vaiani, 20

September 11, 2001

My father was a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service (USSS) during the September 11thterrorist attacks. At the time, my father and other agents who worked in the New York Field Office in the WTC were able to get out of the building and reach safety. But being the brave and honorable man that he is, my father put together a team of agents who reentered the building to evacuate injured civilians before the second tower collapsed. He suffered devastating injuries to his neck, shoulders and back, but fought through these wounds to continue the search for missing persons in the towers and in the surrounding area.  Although I was only six at the time and did not have a very good understanding of the events that had occurred, I knew my dad was a true hero. My dad’s actions taught me to always to put others before yourself, help those who can’t help themselves, and that love and sacrifice of oneself will always triumph in the end over these horrific terror attacks that only attempt to discourage and create hate amongst people. To this day, my father does not talk about the events of 9/11. Instead he lives each day as a silent hero of 9/11 and will forever be the most inspiring person I have ever met. 

Sydney Persing, 19

Ferguson, 2014

The riots that followed the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri had a major impact on the country as a whole, but they also had a significant impact on my life. High profile news and political stories didn’t interest me, so I didn’t watch the news. Instead, I got most of my information from social media, reading my peers’ Facebook posts and shared articles. In that moment, I realized that as millennials, we have a powerful platform on the Internet, and we have an obligation to use that responsibly. In my opinion, it’s a real benefit to society that we can openly share our points of view, but it becomes a real detriment when we publish opinions or unverified claims, and try to pass them off to our peers as facts. Ferguson was a wake-up call to me that what we post has an impact on the opinions and emotions of others, and it’s on us to take that seriously.

 Alex Cecil, 21

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, 2012

I was in my senior year of high school when Adam Lanza killed six adults and twenty first graders before taking his own life. News reports in the following days matched every victim's name with their school photo. I remember in precise, awful clarity that seemingly endless reel of faces scrolling across the television. I think the grief and horror felt by the nation as a whole at the time was fathomless, especially so for parents. My mother, with one daughter in high school, the other in college and memories of the massacres at Columbine and Virginia Tech always at the back of her mind, held me tightly when I got home on the day of the tragedy. As accounts on the events of Sandy Hook came out in the weeks and months after the massacre, I remember being most affected by one survivor's report. A six-year-old girl, the only child to make it out of the first targeted classroom alive, evaded the shooter by playing dead in the midst of her lifeless classmates. Months later, at the summer camp where I worked with seven and eight year olds, I overheard two little girls discussing where they would hide when - when! - the man with the gun came. I started kindergarten in the shadow of Columbine, with drum-tight security, frequent lockdown drills, and to my memory, no concept of why these things were going on. Of course I knew that if a dangerous person came to the school, I was to stay quiet and listen to my teacher, but nowhere in my mental lexicon did the word 'shooter' exist. The Sandy Hook massacre and the gun control controversies that contributed to its occurrence are responsible for the loss of innocence in a generation of elementary school children in Connecticut and around the country. It remains one of the saddest events that I remember in grave detail.

Anonymous, 20

Marriage Equality in New York, 2011

As a gay female, the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York State had a profound impact on my life. By my junior year of high school, I was out to my family and friends; however, I was not yet comfortable enough to discuss the legalization of same sex marriage. So on June 24, 2011, I silently went into my room and watched as the Senate voted on the bill. It was a close vote – so close that I started getting nervous – but the moment came where the decision was made: I could marry in my own state. I started crying beneath the blankets. This decision came at a pivotal time when I was discovering my own identity. It told me that my state doesn’t care that I will marry another woman and that I should not be ashamed to be who I am. The decision gave me the confidence to embrace and love who I am.  And one month later, on July 24, 2011, my counselor at sleep away camp hugged me and said “Congrats, you can get married now.” That moment will stick with me forever.

Kelley Hamill, 22

Boston Marathon Bombings, 2013

While the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t the first terrorist attack my generation has witnessed, it is an event that has resonated with me the most. And not because of the fear that I felt, knowing my close friends and friend’s families were at the race, but instead because of the unity that I felt afterwards. In the days following the attacks reports of the solidarity throughout the city and country showed, from the Dunkin Donuts that stayed open to serve the first responders during the lock down, to my classmates at UNC wearing Boston sports apparel around campus. It was the first time I felt something so evil hit so close to home, but also the first time I really felt that there was a lot more love then hate in the world.

Sam Galina, 19

Invisible Children: Kony, 2012

I remember hearing about Kony2012 my sophomore year of high school and not believing war criminals like Joseph Kony still exist in this world. Kony2012 was a short film that went viral on YouTube, exposing a war in Uganda that had been going on for 20 years where Kony and his rebel army were abducting children and forcing them to become soldiers. The power of social media is what amazed me – the way a video condemning a Ugandan war criminal could reach and empower so many young people here in the United States in just mere days. Our generation is proving to be the best connected to the rest of the world and with that we hold a great responsibility.

Jessie Laffey, 20

Nike Training Club App, 2011

Mobile fitness apps, like The Nike Training Club app, have revolutionized my practice regime. The app’s workouts are curated from team USA's top athletes and each exercise is accompanied by a video of how to perfect each move. The app shares motivational quotes after each completed workout, such as "strong looks good with everything", and provides an interactive trainer to help maintain performance by saying "don't quit now!" With this technology, I can customize my workout based on intensity and timespan, and even tailor according to which muscle group I want to work that day. I can download workouts and use them offline wherever I go, making my training cheap, accessible, and challenging.

Wyatt Packer, 21

Orlando Nightclub Shooting, 2016

A week after the Orlando shooting, my brother and best friend visited me in D.C.  We went out to a fun gay club because that’s the only place where people under 21 can get in. At 2am, the same time the Orlando shootings happened, I felt really unsafe despite being in a “safe space” and having a great time with my friends and brother, so I made us leave. It’s sad and unfair to feel paranoid and unsafe in a public space and I want our government to do something about it.

 Phil Cox, 22

iPhone, 2007

While not the most profound, I think one life changing moment was the introduction of the iPhone. Things we now take totally for granted —touch interface, scrolling, visual voicemail, etc — are totally ubiquitous in both iPhones and their competitors. More importantly, one's "phone" is a requisite part of every facet of daily life. It has totally changed human behavior and sociability.

Dany Guerrero, 21

Snowden’s NSA Leaks, 2013

As most Americans, I grew up believing that my rights would be guaranteed and protected so long as I abided by the law. Not having done anything to suggest I was not a law-abiding citizen, I was appalled to learn that a government agency, which should not be exempt from our system of checks and balances, had been allowed to violate one of my most fundamental rights. What remains to be done is for the citizens and leaders of democratic societies—people who live in a world that is increasingly marked by the wounds of terrorist attacks—to decide to what extent we are willing to compromise privacy in the name of security.     

Ezra Baeli-Wang, 20

House Bill 2, 2016

North Carolina's passage of House Bill 2, which legislates that individuals may only use restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates, was a memorable event for me for a number of reasons. My temporary residence in the state of North Carolina as a UNC student-athlete evoked complicated emotions with regard to my regional, academic, and athletic identities. As someone involved in collegiate athletics governance, I am deeply concerned about the confidence with which we can continue to guarantee safe, inclusive environments for all of our students, student-athletes, coaches, faculty, and staff, with four ACC schools falling under the jurisdiction of a law that codifies the legitimacy of discriminating against people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. The Bill's passage in a climate of growing skepticism surrounding local government's investment in minority groups' wellbeing was offensive and shocking in a lot of ways – I never expected to bear witness to the creation of blatantly discriminatory laws that would undo what little progress the system has made.

Brittany Mayes, 22

Mass Shootings, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015

There is not one particular moment that has resonated with me, but rather a collection of moments from the countless mass shootings my generation has witnessed. From Charleston to Pulse, it reminds me that although the United States has come far, we aren't nearly far enough. People are still senselessly killed every day for the color of their skin, their religion, or the people they love. It's shocking the first few times you hear about something horrible, but then you grow accustomed to being scared or upset or angry and those emotions become normal because there's not much you can do about it.

Emmeline Yoo, 21

Feminist Movement, 2010

Although the feminist movement has been around for centuries and gone leaps and bounds in terms of recognizing the importance of equality across genders, its resurgence in 2010 reminded me of its obstacles and boundaries. Men and women are biologically and physically different, a difference that I believe should be celebrated and accepted, yet some aspects of the feminist movement seek to denounce and silence these differences. I’ve witnessed feminists reject notions of femininity because the word is often associated with “womanliness”; being dainty, sensitive, weak, dependent, submissive. Instead, feminists should embrace and define femininity as something more powerful that goes against this stereotype: grace, sweetness, strength, strong willed, kind, brave, etc. Reshaping “femininity” and the power behind being feminine should be an integral part of the feminist movement. The feminist movement has resonated with me because of its multifaceted definition that continues to procure international debate on women’s rights and the sociopolitical challenges and implications of what it means to be a feminist. This diverse debate has created many definitions of the feminist, creating rifts within the movement that I find intriguing.

Nick Graziano, 21

September 11th, 2001

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, so it’s fair to say that I have seen a lot of weird, scary and wild shit –NYC blackouts, Hurricane Sandy— but 9/11 tops the list. September 11th was my sister's first day of sixth grade. After my mom and I dropped her off at school, we could see the twin towers burning in the distance. My mom was obviously worried, since our neighbor, uncle and father all worked close to the WTC, but that morning was a lucky day for my family. My dad was at his office in DUMBO that morning; he saw the first tower go down, and didn't stick around for the second. My neighbor slept in that morning and missed his usual train. My uncle wasn’t in the office that morning because he was playing a round of golf, and my brother went to ground zero to help put out the fires. While none of my immediate family was injured, we were all effected. Although my memory of that day is hazy, I remember feeling fearful, confused and scared — the type of emotions most six-year-olds might not be able to handle. 

Jack Eiselt, 21

NASA & New Horizons, 2006

Fifth grade was a time when lessons about the Solar System should have been fresh in my mind, but I wasn’t exactly caught up with the news at that age. So, I had no idea that NASA had just sent the New Horizons probe on a ten-year journey through our known Solar System. Fast forward to summer 2015 when I heard news that New Horizons had taken the first genuine close-range photos of Pluto. For a decade, “Pluto” was a vague concept; a small rock impossibly far away from our daily lives. But last summer, the world gazed upon the dwarf planet, analyzing its colors and mountain ranges, viewing it as a tangible location for the first time in history. As a country, and more importantly, as a species, we have pushed our influence to a distance that generations have only been able to see through a set of glass lenses. That’s a refreshing success we should all be able to unite around.

Nakisa Sadeghi, 20

Trayvon Martin, 2012

The shooting of Trayvon Martin sparked a vigorous dialogue about persisting racial inequality in the United States, and in the process shed light on larger issues of prejudice. This same dialogue has resurfaced in other instances of police brutality and/or racial or religious discrimination. The death of Martin and subsequent trial of George Zimmerman awakened many Americans, particularly those of younger generations, and motivated them to question and challenge institutional decisions. Moreover, by spurring increased political activism, this event showcased the value and growing influence of social media in the millennials' society.

Ade Olatunde, 20

Arsenal Football Club, 2004

In the 2003-04 season of the English Premier League, Arsenal Football Club went undefeated against 19 teams, making them the first team to have done so in competitive European football history. In my opinion, the 2003-04 team was one of the greatest ever assembled with a blend of decisive attacking, fluid passing and heroic defending players. As a fan, I pray for a return to that golden age of football for Arsenal.  

Mikela Goldstein, 22

2012 Presidential Election

A lot changed in my life in the fall of 2012.  I moved away from home, started college, began a new stage of life halfway across the country, and voted in my first presidential election. Of course, voting for the first time, as many of my peers also did that day, empowered me and made me feel like I had a voice and a role in shaping my country.  But at the same time, it was scary.  There I was, barely able to navigate my new college campus, responsible for forming a steadfast opinion on issues that seemed far too complex at the time, and choosing between two candidates, neither of whom I agreed with on all of the points across the board.  The process forced me to do my research, think beyond the information that was thrown at me, and understand my own personal values at a level at which I never had before.

James Martin, 21

Mobile Devices & the Internet

The mobilization of the Internet by smartphones, tablets and laptops has had a global impact. People can communicate with essentially anyone from anywhere at any time. Our lives have become more efficient and we are more connected to one another than ever before compared to the past when much more had to be planned and structured ahead of time to orchestrate events, travel, etc. But there is always a cost; the primary one being lost interpersonal interaction. My younger brother, a sophomore in high school, distracts himself with his iPad even when we are watching TV as a family. Mobile devices have become a hiding place for many to escape potentially anxiety-inducing social obligations. Will we use it to communicate for better or worse? Will it be our binoculars to the world or our cave from it? Will we become more connected or more isolated?

 Greg Rowsey, 23

Marriage Equality, 2015

June 26, 2015 was a historic day and pivotal moment for the United States, LGBT community and “others” alike when The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees the right to same-sex marriage. This event resonates with me on a personal level, but also signifies a tipping point in our nation’s history and a shift in the American ideology. This event spurred discussions about the rights that should be guaranteed to all Americans, regardless of their religious beliefs or values. It demonstrated that a belief for some may not be the belief for all, and that those beliefs should not dictate how laws are written and how people live their lives. Though we have a long way to go, because we as a society took such a large step forward in one fell swoop, the legalization of same sex marriage has enabled further progress towards equality for all. 

20 Stories that Shook the World in 20 Years premieres Friday July 15th at 10pm ET on MSNBC.