Is the Defining Event for Gen Z Here?



There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear

Back in 1966, Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield captured the sentiment of young Boomers protesting the war in Vietnam.

Stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Hello? There’s something happening now in Florida and around the nation with 15- to 17-year-old high school students. What it is ain’t exactly clear.

This week a group of high school Gen Z students from Florida told ABC News that they will march on Washington on March 24 (and across other cities, too), launching what they hope could become a movement for sensible gun legislation. Their mantra: “Stop killing us.” Stop debating and start acting to “Make America Safe Again.”

Last year we offered some insights on the wiring of Gen Zs, America’s youngest generation. Understanding generational mindsets can help companies and organizations plan today how to win tomorrow. Our insights on generations come primarily from in-depth research. But we also have to pay attention to current events because there always seems to be a defining event that galvanizes a generation. JFK’s assassination. MLK’s assassination. The Challenger disaster. 9/11.

Is the shooting in Florida and the “March for Our Lives” on Washington that event for Generation Z? We’re not sure, but we’re damn sure we’re going to pay attention and see what comes of this.

These high schoolers are the leading edge of Gen Z. Watching them at CNN’s Town Hall and seeing how they are planning and orchestrating their March march is giving all of us a glimpse into their generational wiring. There are dots to be connected which will help us better understand the cultural shifts that will define America in the decades ahead.

Events Shaping Gen Zs

Members of the same generation, by definition, have shared many of the same formative events during their “Wonder Years” that set them apart from other generations. For Gen Zs it has been the events and parenting styles of the past decade.

While not yet fully formed, Gen Zs are a generation being raised by protective parents in a world growing more dangerous by the week. Routinely exposed to the horrors of terror attacks and gun violence, this generation is being imprinted right now with a need to stay safe and secure.

While those events are happening, our culture has shifted, too. Gen Zs are experiencing a world where America is less melting pot and more Bento Box. We’re not coming together but instead putting ourselves in our own separate compartments. That’s because there is no longer a majority per se, but identities. What once were binary choices — man or woman, young or old, black or white — are now multiple choice — gender fluidity, four generations, multi-racial. These multiple identities co-existing are creating a more pluralistic society, one where everyone wants to find their own place to belong.

We think this cultural shift could result in Gen Zs having a “big tent” perspective where everyone can follow their own path and create their own identity. It won’t be “us vs. them,” but “us and them.”

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

What’s next for Gen Zs starts with the march on Washington. Watch and listen and we suspect you’ll hear pragmatic, pluralistic, security-minded young people. A generation destined to create a better world for all of us.

More proof: The lyrics from the song “Shine,” written and performed by students on CNN’s Town Hall:

You’re not going to knock us down

We’ll get back up again

You may have hurt us but I promise we are stronger and

We're not going to let you win

We're putting up a fight

You may have brought the dark

But together we will shine a light


For What It Is Worth lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Matt ThornhillGen ZComment