In Summary
  • In my view, the answer to this debate lies between scarcity and abundance of resources.
  • There was no expectation on our part that someone could pay for our tuition and fees.

Who are the millennials? Are they ambitious or unambitious?

Although they are defined in the West as persons who came into adulthood at the beginning of the 21st century and later, I tend to define them as young and well-resourced persons or simply young people spoilt for choice.

I came to that conclusion because there are those born within that period who don’t fit the common definition of millennials.

However, a greater majority that fit into the definition live in the West as well as in the newly industrialised Asian economies.


In Africa, there is a smaller number, based mainly in the cities, with larger-than-life influence among the resource-scarce group. Hence the generalisation.

In the past few weeks, there has been several articles about millennials, from Chinese ones to those in the Americas and Europe.

The debate centres on a general sense that young people are either losing their direction or have already lost it and need to be saved from themselves.

In my view, the answer to this debate lies between scarcity and abundance of resources.

It is perhaps why many analysts think that millennials have this sense of entitlement that is undermining their future.

When I reflect on my past, I recognise that there were signs of behavioural change among the young adults of my time.

One day in college, my social sciences professor asked each and every student to tell the class the best present their parents had ever given them for which they truly felt grateful.


He started at the front and in turn students responded, “a car,” “a motor bike,” “a holiday in Hawaii”.

When my turn came I said, “Chicken soup,” and the room went silent.

At the end of class, my professor asked me to remain behind. He was concerned that I may have failed to capture the essence of his question.

“Do I need to clarify the question”? He asked.

“No. Not at all. It was perfectly clear,” I responded.

“What did you mean?” He enquired.

“See, Prof, whenever I felt sick and had fever, my mother always cooked chicken soup for me and in each case I was healed not because of its medicinal content but because of the love with which she touched me and ensured that I had had enough of it to lower the fever. To me it was the best present that I truly felt grateful about and will never trade it for anything else.”

The professor was astounded. Never before in his experience had someone glorified such a valueless gift.


However, the point is that my mother had to use every means to ensure I was fine.

The resources were scarce then and there wasn’t a doctor in a 20-mile radius from our house.
Meat, or such soup, was a luxury. We didn’t have shoes or decent clothing. We barely met our basic needs and indeed it was not easy for any of my classmates to conceptualise my situation.

A few days later, my professor decided to speak comprehensively on inequalities that exist among societies, revealing the lack of knowledge on the subject among the many students who came from affluent families with abundant resources at their disposal. It was the first time I heard someone refer to a group of people as entitled.

The flip side of abundance in America was a booming opportunity for students like myself who came from poor countries.

Menial jobs were in abundance. Cleaning toilets, washing dishes, mowing lawns and even clearing snow were some of the commonest jobs that many American students disliked.

There was no expectation on our part that someone could pay for our tuition and fees.


Even though our fees were three times higher than what Americans paid, we managed to pay for our tuition and graduated without debt.

We simply had to survive with the hope of improving our lives in the days to come.

There was some drive in us that eluded many privileged Americans.

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