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Monday 21 October 2019
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Toastmasters’ voice of Gen Z

Khalifa Baisden

Khalifa Baisden poses with her second place trophy she won at the Toastmasters Regional Competition in Bon Air.
Khalifa Baisden poses with her second place trophy she won at the Toastmasters Regional Competition in Bon Air.

ZILLENNIALS – Gen Z – are an enigmatic generation many are yet to understand. Born between the mid-90s and early 2000s, zillennials are digital natives who always looked to Google to answer their questions. Some zillennials are as old as Google. Toastmaster, Khalifa Baisden, 18, is a zillennial.

She recently placed second to Jamaica at the Toastmaster’s regional speech competition in Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles with her topic: From baby boomers to millennials to snowflakes – evolution, revolution or madness? Toastmasters is a non-profit, international educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of more than 16,000 clubs. They have 357,000 members in 143 countries. Toastmasters is a non-profit, international educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of more than 16,000 clubs. They have 357,000 members in 143 countries.

One of the youngest Toastmasters in the country, Baisden joined the organisation six months ago. Other Toastmaster members in Baisden’s group are in the age range 30s to 50s – from millennials to baby boomers.

Her speech was a comparison of the three generations, and how each could work to make the world a better place.

"I wanted to show all the strengths and deficiencies of each generation and tried to bring that unity between generations, and if we could combine our strengths we could overcome our deficiencies. I realised that the older generation, they have a proclivity of criticising the new generation, instantly forgetting what they used to be like and their past. I thought I should remind them as well," she said.

In her speech, Baisden said zillennials have been called snowflakes as criticism of what is perceived to be a delicate temperament. Simultaneously, they have been criticised by boomers for trying to enact change. Zillennials, she said, have been open about their experiences with mental health, and as a result, institutions such as universities have changed their policies on how they speak to people. Baisden declared she is a snowflake, but possesses none of the negative characteristics people accuse her generation of having.

Toastmaster, 18 year old Khalifa Baisdan

She describes boomers as rebellious revolutionaries who, in their younger years, worked to change oppressive system and fight against the status quo. The baby boomers were also mocked by their parents who described them as pot-smoking hippies. Yet, boomers are the same people who work adamantly to maintain how things are now in spite of a technological revolution.In the middle of the two generations are the millennials, people she described as confident, tech-savvy, entitled, ethnically diverse, narcissistic and tolerant. Baisden told the Toastmaster audience she does not want to join in the intergenerational blame game. Each generation has its own strengths and weaknesses that could bring about revolutions, evolution or madness.

Newsday asked Baisden how she felt about the condemnation baby boomers often hurl at the younger generations. "It's hypocritical for them to criticise us for the same things that they used to do. I talked about the baby boomers and that period of rebellion, the peace and love, the hippy movement, they rebelled against the system and now they are the system looking down on the other generations who are against that system."

She's read commentary from older people on social media and thinks the rapid advancements in technology caused a fundamental misunderstanding between generations, as the younger ones choose to communicate and learn differently than the older generations.

"There is some kind of communication gap or barrier. I think technology has revolutionised a lot of the ways we do things and I don't think they could adapt to that and I don't think they understand it fully as yet." In the face of the changing world, Baisden said young people should be given the opportunity to take up leadership positions, but many may not want to as they experience anxiety.

"I think the younger generations should be more involved in leadership roles. Many probably are reluctant. A lot of the people I know, they tend to shy away (from leadership positions) because of anxiety. And they aren't being allowed a seat as well. The older generations seem to want to hold on to the power. They don't let them have the opportunity."

Baisden also experiences anxiety. She joined Toastmasters to help her open up to people and learn public speaking, a task that used to cause her much anxiety. But, through the rigorous programme she's gained confidence in the past six months.
When asked what she thinks causes her anxiety, she said, "I think it has to do a lot with technology. Smart phones are ubiquitous. There is always the chance that if you make a mistake, they are going to capture it on their smart phone and share it on social media, and that has become a preoccupation amongst youths. I think that's part of the reason for anxiety."

In spite of the anxiety the digital world brings, Baisden said it can also be liberating as anyone could create a fake profile and express how they feel.

"It is like a safe environment. You could be anonymous, and nobody could know who you are. It is like a judge-free zone. You could create different fake accounts and be able to express your opinions freely," she said.

Baisden said people in her Toastmasters group are usually in the baby-boomer age group. However, when she gave her speech, many people were receptive of it and were impressed that she was able to articulate her views about the different generations.

"It feels amazing knowing I achieved that much. I feel grateful for those who helped me ever since I joined Toastmasters. The members from the TT Toastmasters community in general, family friends, school, everyone was really supportive," she said.

Baisden is a modern language student from Bishop Anstey High School, Port of Spain, and was the middle of writing the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) when she went to Bonaire.

Baisden had 12 exams to sit. Because of her exams, she didn't get to experience much of the sights of Bonaire, but she expressed her love for the food she had there.

"It was tiring given all the travels and exams, but the brief time I spent there was great," she said.

From baby boomers to millennials to snowflakes – evolution, revolution or madness?

I am a Snowflake.

That’s the name given to me because I was born between 1995 and 2015. I belong to Generation Z.

Yet, I don’t melt easily. I try not to spin aimlessly in the wind.

You see, I’m also a Toastmaster and Toastmasters are a unique, international blend drawn from every generation, all countries, cultures, religions and genders who come together to build each other’s competence and confidence in critical areas.

As a snowflake, I am expected to shy away from leadership and self-assertiveness, avoid accepting responsibility and at age 18 become, what is mockingly termed an adult by default. That’s the view of previous generations, often aired all over social media. As a young Toastmaster, I am proud to say, I display none -not one of these negative characteristics.

Contest Chair!

The mighty Baby Boomers, probably the most famous generation alive, number about 75 million in the USA alone. They are now in the 55 -75 age group. They saw man’s landing on the moon, witnessed great strides in science and saw many serious pandemic diseases wiped from the face of the Earth. The eldest among them led the global independence movement. The youngest led the movement against the independence leaders who became the new status quo.

They featured in the Civil Rights movement, Black Power, protests against the Vietnam War, the 1968 worldwide revolts by youth and other revolutionary activities. To hear it from their parents, though, they were a bunch of promiscuous hippies, shouting ‘peace and love’ wearing weird clothes called ‘threads’ and listening to loud, tuneless ‘music. ‘I wanannawanna nanana.’

These were the Flower Children, a bunch of pot-smoking, wannabe revolutionaries chanting all sorts of silly slogans. They attacked the establishment violently. Today, many of these same revolutionary baby boomers are bastions of the establishment, pillars in the very status quo they once sought to overthrow. Revolution, evolution or madness?

The millennial, a suave, tech-savvy, bunch appeared roughly between 1980 and 1995. Today they form the 25 to 39 age group. They are believed to be the most ethnically diverse generation with 20 per cent of them having at least one immigrant parent. They are confident some say to the point of entitlement and narcissism. They aren’t heavily involved in politics or religion. They are tolerant of differences – gender, racial, sexual and religious. The millennials are, in essence, a swirling ocean in motion shaping the world through the IT revolution but considered not sufficiently evolved to firmly insert themselves into the status quo. So what’s happening with the millennials? Is it evolution, an information revolution or technological madness?

Finally, my own generation, the snowflakes. Why even the name snowflakes? I assure you it is not a term of endearment. All over social media there is criticism and denigration of the snowflakes. They all suffer with anxiety, so don’t shout or speak too harshly to them. In fact, one journalism college recently banned professors from using negative words like don’t and upper case letters in comments. The Snowflakes are always bored, hungry or depressed – surfing on their phones all day. Many fall into criminal lifestyles, In the wake of a couple horrific double murder and the increasing killing of the very young, my own Prime Minister asked: where is this generation?

I say they are here, working in Bonaire, writing exams in Saba, struggling to build families in St Martin and Aruba and Curacao, St Eustatius, Antigua Jamaica, all over the English, French and Dutch Caribbean. We are here – ready to take the baton and move forward.

Contrary to public opinion and popular belief, the snowflakes didn’t simply fall from the sky. They were supposed to be born into the guidance of antecedent generations. Things have been slipping for a while, values and mores that were supposed to be handed down were not. And the disrespect for forbears and attacks against authority must have been handed down from somewhere. as were the guns and drugs and feelings of entitlement.

I won’t join the inter-generational blame game. I believe in a system where one generation can climb onto the shoulders of the previous one to advance further - strong and grounded. There are no snowflakes, no millennials and no baby boomers, only forever young and young and ambitious. It is revolution. It is evolution, and in that strange kind of gladness where no one cares too much about maintaining conventions, simply for conventions sake, it is madness.

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