Katie: The Marks Of The Next Generation

Next month, I am scheduled to give the commencement address at the graduation ceremonies at Williams College. Consequently, I have been "cramming" lately so I won't have to "pull an all-nighter" the night before my big test.

Pouring over poll results and studies of these kids (grouped together as 18-24) I have learned some amazing things about them. 85% are registered to vote. Half of them voted in the last election, but almost three quarters of them plan to vote in the presidential primaries and almost 90% plan to vote in the general election. Bravo! The country's in good hands. I even found out that half of them stay in touch with their parents on a daily basis.

But then I came across this statistic. 36% of the 18-24 year olds have a tattoo, 25% of them have dyed their hair an unnatural color and 30% have a piercing other than an ear lobe. As Paul Lynde sang in "Bye Bye Birdie": "What's the matter with kids today?"

I remember someone telling me, "Never trust anyone with more than one tattoo and less than two earrings. I think they meant I should avoid people in carnival sideshows and pirates. But then rock and roll and Johnny Depp came along, and I found myself, indeed, hanging with ear-ringed hipsters with, I'm sure, way more than one tattoo.

I believe there was a study once that equated the number of tattoos with criminal behavior, but you can't say that every third kid in college is a criminal. And if tattoos were really that bad, Pamela Anderson would have to sleep alone at night and heavy metal musicians would be celibate.

The great thing about hair---and I do know a few things about hair---is that it continues to grow or, if you're a man, it falls out. The point is that whatever would move one to color their hair green on a whim or a protest, it's not the end of the world. And it's a lot easier to fix than a tattoo. (By the way, I really don't want to see what these kids' tattoos look like when they're 90.) All things considered, I think I can live with hair color that looks like the Homeland Security warning chart.

Again, I have been forced to realize that many of my preconceived notions are just that: pre–conceived. At least a third of the young graduates I'll be trying to inspire and advise next month will either be tattooed, dyed, or pierced; some will be all three.

And almost 30% of the college kids I will be addressing wil have a piercing in something other than ear lobes. This does not mean they're bad people.

All you can do is hope that the next time you're at the airport, they aren't ahead of you in line for the metal detector.