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Virginia Tech students through the decades.
1875 cadet officers, Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College
Virginia Agricultural and
Mechanical College
Many generations of alumni have passed through Virginia Tech since the university opened its doors in 1872. Much has changed in the past 138 years, and the campus and colleges have evolved so that students can keep pace with an ever-changing society. Through the years, the generosity and service of Virginia Tech alumni have made a 135th anniversary celebration possible for the Alumni Association.

While the passion and excitement of our alumni and students remain strong, each generation has unique qualities. The characteristics below don't describe each of Virginia Tech's 250,000-plus alumni individually--after all, not every baby boomer went to Woodstock--but they do address commonly held perceptions of each generation. More likely than not, these characteristics influenced the Virginia Tech experience of each generation in a slightly different way.


This generation experienced challenging times in a nation divided by the Civil War. West Virginia, which was created in 1863, separated Virginians in the western part of the state. As the nation recovered from war, the university, then called Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College, graduated its first 12 students in 1875.


Members of the "Lost Generation" were disillusioned by the large number of casualties of World War I. They were cynical, disdainful of Victorian notions of morality and propriety, and ambivalent about 19th-century gender ideals.

1902-03 Mandolin and Glee Club
THE G.I. GENERATION: Born 1901-24

The G.I. Generation, or the "Greatest Generation," is characterized by loyalty, hard work, patriotism, respect for authority, self-reliance, and a strong sense of civic obligation; "sacrifice for the common good" was a widely accepted norm. The G.I. Generation takes traditional retirement, stopping work to pursue a life of rest and leisure. Having worked hard, often in manufacturing, many yearned for the freedom and fun of the "golden years."

1943, the Drillfield
1958 Highty-Tighties
VPI Ring Dance, 1958
THE BUILDERS: Born 1925-42

This generation, known as the "Builders," saw America move from the farm to the city and from a blue-collar economy to the information age. Builders are hardworking, frugal, patriotic, cautious, dependable, and private about their feelings. More than 75 percent of the nation's wealth and more than 80 percent of its savings are controlled by this generation.

Family: close family
Mother: homemaker
Marriage: married once
Education: a dream
Major influences: family and church
Teenage experience: the Great Depression
Entertainment: radio
Attitude toward authority: honor and respect
Value system: conservative
Perception: "we"

THE BOOMERS: Born 1943-60

Boomers were raised in an era of rapid growth and change. Technological advances meant more leisure time, and boomers were free to explore their feelings and experiment with life. Major cultural events--three dramatic assassinations (John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.), the Vietnam War, and the Watergate scandal--caused many in this generation to become activists and to distrust societal institutions. The Cold War, consumerism, civil rights, women's issues, and the environment also occupy boomers' attention. Boomers are independent, cause-oriented, and media-informed. They are quality-conscious, fitness-preoccupied, and linked by a common heritage of rock music.

Family: dispersed family
Mother: working mother
Marriage: divorced and remarried
Education: a birthright
Major influences: family and education
Teenage experience: civil rights and Watergate
Entertainment: TV (three channels)
Attitude toward authority: replace them and challenge leaders
Value system: self-based
Purchasing: credit card
Perception: "me"

Virginia Tech students through the decades.

GENERATION X: Born 1961-81

This generation has experienced several new definitions of family and great personal insecurity. Recently, authors have described it as the postmodern generation. This generation values time over money and rejects the workaholic materialism of their parents. X-ers are not slackers; in fact, they must work to repay substantial student loans. Financing the ability to "get away from it all" and spending time with close friends are the best reasons to work for most Gen X-ers.

 Virginia Tech graduation ceremony, 1990s
Family: latchkey kids
Mother: single mother
Marriage: single parent or blended families
Education: a way to get there
Major influences: the media
Teenage experience: information explosion, AIDS, trillion-dollar debt, and environmental woes
Entertainment: TV (30-plus channels), VCR, and Nintendo
Attitude toward authority: ignore leaders
Value system: media
Purchasing: struggling to purchase
Perception: "us and them" (the boomers)

GENERATION Y (Millennials): Born 1982-2001

Millennials may lead a seismic wave of change in the world. They are more numerous, more affluent, better educated, and more ethnically diverse and "unlike any other youth generation in living memory," according to one expert. Millennials also have positive social habits--focused on teamwork, achievement, and good conduct--and exhibit strong civic duty with confidence, sociability, and diversity.

Family: comfortable with a loose family structure
Mother: single mother or single father
Marriage: undetermined
Education: an incredible experience
Major influences: friends, media, athletes
Teenage experience: overwhelming information, downsizing, living at home longer
Entertainment: surfing the net, DVDs, PlayStation, and Xbox
Attitude toward authority: leaders must respect you
Value system: shop around
Purchasing: online
Perception: "Change is possible and good."

Generational descriptions were pulled from research conducted by Dennis Gaylor, national director of Chi Alpha Campus Ministries, and Tom Tillar, vice president for alumni relations.

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