University of Calgary

A Generational Divide — Maybe Not?

Submitted by tmagee on Wed, 04/05/2017 - 17:06.

A Generational Divide — Maybe Not?

Is it a lack of trust in authority? Idealism? Parental closeness? From Baby Boomers to the iGeneration, we examine the power that politics, geography, arts and parents play in shaping a generation’s values.
Theresa Tayler

There’s bad news, folks. No matter what generation you come from — Traditionalist, Baby Boomer, Generation X, Millennial, iGeneration — at the end of the day, we all turn into our parents. You can do your best to avoid it. You can try your hardest to ignore it. But the end is nigh.

“It’s funny how you just end up turning into your dad,” says Oliver Trutina, BA’03, with a smile and a long sigh. “I can see it happening, by the hour.” The University of Calgary Economics alumnus is sitting in the corner office of his family business, Truman Homes. The vice-president of the company is sporting a pair of stylish high-top “chucks” (sneakers) and jeans, not exactly the stereotypical picture of buttoned-down corporate attire.

“Am I going to go to work in a suit?” Trutina says, with a laugh. “No, that’s not who I am, and you have to be true to yourself.”"Since its birth in 1966, UCalgary has witnessed more than 170,000 students walk its hallowed halls.”

Trutina is kidding around, but he’s also making a valid point about personal values. While the Baby Boomers and their parents may have thought it sacrilegious to arrive at the office in anything less than a power suit with a briefcase in tow, Trutina — who, at 34, sits somewhere betwixt Generation X and Millennials — prefers a more casual approach to not only business garb, but corporate culture.

Since its birth in 1966, the University of Calgary has witnessed more than 170,000 students walk its hallowed halls. Each group has made their impact on the world, but just how much do each generation’s worth of change-makers, innovators and other movers and shakers vary in their ideals and outlook on life? As it turns out, even though we may think we’re, ahem, “completely different than our parents,” our values may be more similar than not.

However, there are some defining factors that set the various graduating classes apart.


Canada Census categorizes generations by year of birth

The Greatest Generation/Traditionalists

Baby Boomers

1966 - 1980
Generation X

Millennials/Generation Y

2000 onwards
the iGeneration/Generation Z

According to Bruce Cameron, president of Return On Insight, the cultural and sociological elements that commonly influence a so-called generation’s values, seem to flow from the arts, politics, technology, geography and economics.

Cameron is an Alberta pollster who has been identifying trends in advertising, media relations and market research for more than 25 years. He says generations are most frequently categorized into these colloquial cohorts: the Greatest Generation (or Traditionalists), Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials (or Generation Y) and iGeneration (or Generation Z).

“Trying to categorize people is never tidy or clear, and it varies a lot by geography and economy,” he adds.

A Sharp Sense of Place

Truman Homes, a Calgary-based developer, is a family affair. While three of the four Trutina siblings — Oliver, BA’03, Tony, BA’03, and Martin, BComm’12 — received their formal business education from UCalgary, all four say they inherited their entrepreneurial spirit and savvy from their Boomer parents.

“I’m an entrepreneur. That’s who I am,” says Oliver. “The key influences in my upbringing would have to be my parents and the city I grew up in — Calgary. Ultimately, however, it’s just what I’m good at, what I value doing and what I care about.”

Aritha van Herk, Calgary-based novelist, cultural commentator and UCalgary English professor, agrees that place and history play a huge part in helping shape world views.

“We are profoundly affected by geography, and, in Calgary, we have a keen sense of it,” she says. “There are a lot of gifts here. Think about the nature around us, the mountains and the climate. The landscape and weather can be harsh, but they are also awe-in- spiring. Geography plays a role in our culture of risk-taking and entrepreneurship. And I think economy and nature play a role in our generosity.”

Van Herk explains that each of those elements play into the student experience, which in turn, shapes our character.

“If you can’t get a summer job, you’re in a whole different position than someone who has one,” she says, noting those students who decide to live and work in Calgary after they complete post-secondary tend to invest in the city. “Calgarians have a tendency to give back, big-time. It’s in our subconscious as a value.”

Economics and the Growing Impact of Social Enterprise

UCalgary law student Danielle Douglas is a prime example of a young philanthropist who is committed to paying it forward. Far from the stereotypical picture of a cutthroat legal eagle or an entitled Millennial, she is one of the student directors of the Calgary Chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada and devotes a significant portion of her time to volunteer work.

“When I first thought about what I would take in post-secondary, I considered social work,” explains the 26-year-old who will graduate in 2017. “But I like to argue and I applied to law school and got in. I now see it as a career in which I can help people. If you think about it, lawyers are there to try to fix problems — whether it concerns human rights, immigration, family or environmental issues; they are all areas that are incredibly exciting and satisfying for lawyers.”

Since the mid 1990s, Calgary’s chapter of the Pro Bono Students Canada group has been rapidly growing, contradicting the “me first” attitude that has branded this cohort. The group’s yearly survey shows the number of UCalgary law students who say they plan to continue volunteering their legal services after graduation has risen by five per cent in 2015 over 2013-14, pointing towards a growing population of young UCalgary lawyers who are keen to give back while also pursuing a lucrative career in the for-profit sector.


✦ Education — a dream

✦ Respects authority

✦ A generation that survived economic depression and the Second World War

✦ Values that centre around personal responsibility, duty and honour

✦ A generation that values saving and economic prudence

An example of social enterprise at work is UCalgary grad Taylor Scobbie, BA’10, BComm’10, who, along with his team at IMPCT, an organization that builds sustainable education day-care models for the world’s poorest, received the $1-million Hult Prize in 2015, awarded to them by former U.S. President Bill Clinton at a final competition in New York City.

According to Cameron, the concept of social enterprise — for-profit structures that also contribute to the good of the community — is gaining traction with the local Millennial and iGen population, softening the stereotypes of self-absorption that has stuck to them. In political terms, Millennials are liberals on the surface united by the common value of individualism. This explains both their personal optimism and social mistrust, the passion about causes like gay marriage and their enthusiasm for an uploaded world where everyone will be transparent to everyone else.

“It doesn’t surprise me that there are a lot of people trying to advance goals for the common good,” says Cameron. The iGen population has grown up with the idea — not even the idea, with the acceptance — that what’s happening on the other side of the planet impacts them and that they can also communicate and work with those on the other side of the world.

“Calgarians have a ‘can-do’ attitude,” he adds. “If there’s a problem, Calgarians don’t tend to focus on, ‘How can government fix this?’ The focus and value system seems to point them in the direction of saying, ‘How can we fix this?’”

Geography and the woolly West may indeed be a factor, however, Trutina says the concept of social enterprise is simply a natural part of building a healthy business community.

Through a partnership with the City of Calgary, Truman Homes helps provide attainable homes to Calgarians who fit specific criteria through its non-profit organization, Liberty Home Ownership in Calgary.

“We operate on a socially responsible business model, because it’s important to us,” says Trutina. “Whether we are calling this stuff social enterprise, philanthropy or whatever, it’s a value that transcends generations.”

Truman Homes is also a partner builder in the University District area, an upcoming urban village community adjacent to the UCalgary campus. It is led by West Campus Development Trust, with profits benefiting the university.

Down to a Fine Art

While many of UCalgary grads are leaders in the board room, there is a select group of influential change-makers whose values are entrenched in a commitment to culture and creativity.

“Arts students, regardless of generation, share many of the same values. Perhaps because the arts is not an easy world to exist in,” says Quenten Doolittle, who, along with his wife, Joyce, were founding professors in the university’s Department of Fine Arts.

The couple — Quenten in the Department of Music and Joyce in Drama — began teaching at UCalgary in the early 1960s. They immigrated to Canada from the U.S. and the couple agree they were eager to embrace a nation that shared their own “progressive” values."We are profoundly affected by geography as a society, and, in Calgary, we have a keen sense of it...”

“We admired Canada and saw a great opportunity in Calgary,” explains Quenten.

“We loved listening to CBC Radio because we lived in the northern states at that time,” adds Joyce. “When Quenten got the job offer at what’s now the University of Calgary and asked me if I’d want to move here, it was a no-brainer. I said, ‘Oh boy! The CBC without static? I’m in!’ We’ve never looked back.”


✦ Education — a birthright

✦ Ambition

✦ Challenge authority

✦ Team players

✦ Idealistic

✦ Optimistic

✦ Strong work ethic

✦ Consumers

✦ Loyal to children

✦ Buy now, pay later

At that time, Joyce adds, students shared strong ideals about their future.

“Drama students — their values, their hopes, dreams — don’t change that much from generation to generation. By the time they get to university, they have decided that the arts are important to them,” she explains.

“They’ve likely had to explain to their family why they’re doing something that may not lead to a job. Ironically, we have a very high success rate at UCalgary regarding students who have gone on to great careers in the arts — but it’s not always easy.”

It’s politics man . . .

Tom Flanagan, UCalgary professor emeritus of political science, explains that, in his experience, public policy students are a “completely different beast,” who have always understood that decisions are made by those who turn up.

The American-educated professor began teaching at the university in 1968, “right at the peak of the rise of the ‘new left,’” he says, noting it was during this time UCalgary’s often-subversive newspaper, The Gauntlet, was established.

The 1960s and ’70s were a time when left-wing activism flourished. “We had many intellectual debates and discussions at that time,” says Flanagan, adding student values in the political science department began to shift in the ’80s, when more undergrads began enrolling for purely economic and vocational reasons.


✦ Education — a way to get there

✦ Angry, don’t know why

✦ Big gap with Boomers

✦ Self-starters

✦ Results-driven

✦ Work/life balance

✦ Conservative with money

✦ Skills are more key than work ethic

✦ Techno-literacy

“They were coming not just to study politics, but to build a career for themselves. Many used political science as a means to get into law school, journalism or another career stream,” he says. “Things really accelerated in the ’90s when “we got another major political wave with the foundation of the Reform Party in Alberta,” recalls Flanagan. Led by Preston Manning, the later Reform Party of Canada (which existed from 1987 until 2000 when it evolved into the Canadian Alliance) was founded primarily by a group of Albertans in Edmonton and Calgary.

Flanagan, an author, professor and conservative political influencer, could see that polarizing political views and values were beginning to take flight during this time. This came in the form of public debates, political clubs and through a group of outspoken political influencers such as Danielle Smith, BA’97, (journalist and later leader of the Wildrose provincial political party) and Ezra Levant, BComm’93, (journalist and lawyer), as well as Naheed Nenshi, BComm’93, (current mayor of Calgary) and Chima Nkemdirim, BComm’94, (Chief of Staff at the City of Calgary) — all of whom once graced lecture halls in the political science and economics wings of UCalgary.

“They didn’t always agree politically, but I remember that group being tight, being friendly and having rollicking debates,” Flanagan says. “Campus was a very exciting place in the ’90s — getting a national political leader [Manning] from our immediate region left a huge impact.

“Universities are traditionally centres of liberal thought. However, during the ’90s there was this period when the right-wing students — who were far and few between — felt there was a place for them. From a purely cultural standpoint, it was a very interesting time to watch,” adds the former advisor to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, BA’85, MEc’91, and a member of the so-called “Calgary School” (a term that refers to a UCalgary cohort of right-wing academics and graduates of political science, economics and history departments).


✦ Education — incredible expense

✦ Confident

✦ Diversity-focused

✦ Attached to parents and gadgets

✦ Optimistic

✦ Entitled

✦ Extremely techno savvy

✦ Politically savvy (like Boomers)

✦ Hotly competitive

✦ Want to please others

The Calgary School includes current and past professors, politicians such as Ted Morton (also a UCalgary professor), as well as their former students (Levant and Smith), among several other UCalgary notables. They were christened the Calgary School in Canadian pop culture because its Calgary-based members shared political beliefs and social values that tended to centre around Libertarianism.

You Gotta Fight, for Your Right …

While prominent right-wing students were finding their collective voice in the political science wings of the university in the 1990s, another under-represented group of grads was fighting to be heard.

“What isn’t really well-known about the University of Calgary, but has been revealed through the Calgary Gay History Project, is that the university and the student organizations on campus were early advocates for queer rights and justice,” says Rebecca Sullivan, UCalgary English professor who specializes in feminist media and cultural studies, adding that student involvement with social-justice movements is fundamental to a generation’s identity in exploring their sense of self and community.

Sullivan notes UCalgary has a rich history of social and political activism, including Indigenous, feminist, queer and racial activism. “Historically, we have had many events on campus that brought in queer activists and legal and policy experts and this was when homosexuality was illegal,” she says, pointing to events such as the 1969 lecture by gay publisher Harold Call at MacEwan Hall.


✦ Education — expect high grades

✦ Speed demons/ multitaskers

✦ Early adopters of technology

✦ Always present in a social way

✦ Very close to family

✦ In touch with global issues and cultures

✦ Extremely techno savvy

✦ Communicate every possible way

✦ Need constant reinforcement

✦ Idealistic

According to the Calgary Gay History Project, Call spoke at a session hosted by the university’s Civil Liberties Association billed as Homosexuality: A police industry, focusing on sexual equality and legalization of homosexual acts. More than 300 people attended. While Calgary may have been stereotyped as a conservative city from the 1960s to the ’90s, there were stark opposition movements and liberal schools of thought mushrooming across campus. "Right now, there seems to be another incredible wave of activism and community-building on campus.”

“Right now, there seems to be another incredible wave of activism and community-building on campus. It’s been re-energizing for me to witness student activism flourishing again,” Sullivan says. She is referring to recent positive strides that have taken place around the larger LGBTQ2IA+ communities.

In 2016, UCalgary sociology student Quinn Nelson went on record with the CBC, calling for Canada’s long-form census to include the option to identify oneself as transgendered. At last June’s convocation, transgender student Naomi Hiebert, BSc’16, walked the podium with a software and engineering degree. According to a UToday story, Hiebert has become a role model for transgender youth in Calgary as an active member of the University’s Q Centre and an advocate for gender-neutral washrooms on campus.

“It’s amazing to watch the values and conversations change. Five years ago, the topic of gender-neutral washrooms on campus might have been a debate,” Sullivan says. “The students of today, who are coming in to study, they’re just like: ‘Why are we talking about this? Of course people need a washroom of their own.’

“Activism ebbs and flows,” adds Sullivan. “Topics keep coming up, but every generation needs to remember its past and fight for its future.”

Some studies are framed by rigid lines connecting generations to a tidy bucket of values, but new data and what we discovered at the University of Calgary suggests that attitudes reflect a broader pattern —influenced by geography, economics, politics and, as Trutina admits, our parents.

Perhaps Mark Twain put it best: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” U