TAMPA — Technology is revered by this nation’s biggest generation, but perhaps not in the way their parents think.
Technology saves time, builds relationships, erases prejudice and provides access to the best minds and information on earth, Hillsborough County’s top graduating seniors say.
Many of them hope to use technology to change the world.
“The sheer breadth of technology available today is in no way comparable to what was available in previous years,” wrote Veronica Rivera, a scholar at Riverview High on her way to Florida State University to study English and history. “For this reason, the Millennials have a blank canvas that is the world.”
Each year, The Tampa Tribune recognizes Hillsborough seniors graduating in the top 3 percent of their class and invites them to submit an essay and compete for R.F. “Red” Pittman college scholarships.
This year’s scholars were asked, “How do you think what you value differs from previous generations and how do you see that influencing change?”
Nearly all of the more than 200 essays mentioned the value of technology, in part for the instant global access it provides.
“Ever heard the phrase, ‘What if the cure for cancer was trapped inside the mind of someone who cannot afford an education?’” wrote Kylie Paul, a Wharton High School scholar. “I answer that with another question: What if the cure for cancer, divided like puzzle pieces, was actually scattered worldwide in the minds of many people?”
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Paul said she uses technology “a lot, mostly for social media,” but also credits YouTube math demonstrations for her success at dual enrollment college classes in algebra and Calculus for Business. She plans to continue using online videos in college, along with mobile apps giving her instant access to a dictionary and other research. “A lot of friends going to UCF and FSU use them all the time, especially for math,” she said. “When you’re doing an equation, they work you through it.”
When Paul starts college later this month, as a health science major, she plans to install a free new safety app offered at the University of Florida.
TapShield, launched in February at UF, uses a mobile GPS system so students can summon campus security from anywhere with one touch of the iPhone. The app was created by another Millennial, Jordan Johnson, 2009 UF student body president-turned-technology entrepreneur.
A report issued in March from the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., calls the Millennials who are now young adults “digital natives — the only generation for which these new technologies are not something they’ve had to adapt to.”
With 81 percent of them on Facebook, Millennials have taken the lead in seizing on the new platforms of the digital age — the Internet, mobile technology, social media — to construct personalized networks of friends, colleagues and affinity groups, the report says.
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They have more friends on Facebook — a median friend count of 250 compared to Generation X before them with 200. Baby Boomers and older people have fewer than 100, according to the report.
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in 2013 was “selfie,” reflecting how this generation “place themselves at the center of self-created digital networks,” it said. At least 55 percent of Millennials have posted a selfie on a social media site, far ahead of any previous generation.
The class of 2014 is aware of how this digital fixation figures into their image among older generations — constantly hunched over smartphones and tablets.
“Some people see this generation as self-absorbed, narcissistic, impersonal and defiant,” wrote Mark Schumaker, one of the four winners of the Tribune’s Pittman scholarships this year. “I see us as compassionate, effective, limitless, and humanistic.”
Schumaker, who graduated from Newsome High in Lithia, is headed to the University of Florida to study foreign affairs, finance and engineering. His essay echoed what many of the senior essays expressed: “The technology available to us and the things we value empowers us in a way that history has never seen.”
Another top scholar, Tithonas Davis, a King High School graduate planning to major in environmental engineering at the University of Central Florida, alluded to the irony his generation presents.
“They say we always get what we want,” Davis wrote. “What if what we want is to make the world a better place?”
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Marc Berson, another of the four scholarship winners, created a Twitter account two years ago to share his interest in swimming. A champion competitive swimmer, he now has about 23,000 followers worldwide, including two major swimsuit designers and someone in almost every European country.
“I do all my tweets in English, but I do get some in other languages,” said Berson, a Freedom High graduate. The hobby takes up to 20 hours per week but, “I manage my time. I turn off my notifications when I have homework.”
Berson plans to study international relations at Bowdoin College in Maine and believes his generation will only benefit from its sharing of innovation.
“Our passions and curiosities are reflected in our Instagram posts, YouTube mashups and Tumblr blogs,” Berson wrote in his winning essay. “We exert our political power and share our voice by retweeting, liking Facebook posts, and modifying our profile pictures in solidarity to causes.”
This year’s scholars have also seized on technology to make and manage money.
Eric Scott, valedictorian at Plant High, manages his online stock portfolio via his cell phone and laptop. He said he has made about $10,000 over the past two years from an original investment of $250 by restoring and then reselling computers, furniture and a car.
“It would have been impossible 10 or 20 years ago,” said the young entrepreneur, who links to buyers and sellers via the Internet. He plans to study industrial engineering and business management at the University of Florida.
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Daniel Wilson, a Tribune scholar from Tampa’s Jesuit High School, was 15 when he created Crash Pad Drums, an app that allows iPhones and iPads to become “a virtual drum set.” His free version has 100,000 downloads and his more sophisticated $1 version has earned him about $3,000 between downloads and advertising.
“It’s open to the entire world,” Wilson said. Most users are from the United States, followed by China.
Wilson also created a game with a Los Angeles animator he met on a website. They worked virtually through Skype as a learning exercise to create a game similar to the classic Space Invaders of the late 1970s.
“It’s definitely a hobby,” said Wilson, a musician who is lead guitarist and vocalist for two bands. The apps took “hundreds of hours” to create, but “I’m almost certain it’s what got me into college” by setting him apart. He plans to attend Princeton University, majoring in financial engineering.
“The Millennial generation is forging a distinctive path into adulthood,” the Pew report says. Not only is this generation the largest in U.S. history, but it is also the most racially diverse and the best educated: One-third of adult Millennials ages 26 to 33 have at least a four-year college degree.
These young adultsare also more upbeat about America’s future than previous generations, the Pew study says, an outlook shared by this year’s scholars.
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“We will change the world not just because we are innovative and passionate, but because we value changing the world in a way previous generations were unable to,” wrote Allison Kaslow, another of this year’s scholarship winners.
A graduate of Newsome High, Kaslow plans to study brain and cognitive sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which she hopes will lead to a career in neurosurgery or research.
Kaslow lists core values of her generation as social Internet, economic growth and humanitarianism, which she says are “all related to technology.”
Brian Do, the fourth scholarship winner, graduated from Strawberry Crest High in Dover. He is headed to the Georgia Institute of Technology to major in mechanical engineering and plans to seek a PhD in biomedical science.
Like many top scholars with roots in foreign countries, Do’s parents immigrated to the United States from Vietnam to work for a better life.
Do’s winning essay spoke to the value of global connectedness as “creating a shift in values as profound as the shift in technology — a shift towards sincere introspection.”
“Change begins with oneself,” Do wrote, “and only after dealing with one’s own problems can we address society’s problems effectively. With a generation of reflection, this can now be done. A world of increased reflection is a world of increased civics, increased trust, and a more united world — a world united to improve itself.”