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Wail of the Voice Credit: Nadine Zylberberg , Jenny Hu

Humans are creatures of habit. We categorize because it’s how we’re wired to understand the world, and we only comprehend these categories as they relate to other ones.

But then there are categories that are a bit more nebulous. So we make movies, write books, publish articles in efforts to understand them until they become as unequivocal as an apple or orange.

This past semester, I dubbed my column “Twentysomething” because I was feeling incredibly unoriginal at the time. But now, I think I was onto something.

It’s neither one word nor two. Microsoft Word rejects it, marking a jagged red line in revolt wherever it appears. It doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, and the more I hear it, the more it sounds like an ailment we succumb to by virtue of age and era.

Twentysomethings don’t read anymore and we don’t care about old people. Our loyalties lie with fixed-gear bikes, food trucks and Instagram. We’ll be the first generation to be poorer than our parents. We’re immune to sodium-laden ramen, but inquiries into our life plans hike up our blood pressure. I’m not keen on these generalizations — though I can’t completely write them off — but maybe what’s been more haunting to me is the label itself.

There’s a list of words I’ll never come to like, among them “crusty” and “vexed.” Then there’s “something.” I find myself using it to explain evening plans or the last thing I ate. It’s a word of literary laziness, or so I was taught in fourth grade. It joins the ranks of “stuff” and “interesting” as words that can certainly be used to describe that which is fascinating or complex, but do so in an extremely banal way.

But “something” has been tacked on to our beloved millennial moniker, so it’s well worth consideration. It’s a placeholder, waiting until something, anything, comes along to render it nothing and replace it with, well, something else. Mark Zuckerberg isn’t a twentysomething so much as he’s an innovator. Jennifer Lawrence isn’t a twentysomething either so much as an Oscar-winning actress. Even token millennial Lena Dunham isn’t a twentysomething — she’s an artist with a pen, a camera and no shame.

When it comes to the people I know, people who have spent the past four years cultivating the twentysomethings they’ll become, “something” is a shade shy of fame and fortune. “Something” means accidentally blowing $160 on a Coney Island carnival game or leaving a friend in the Dominican Republic because she forgot her visa. It means decoding each text from that boy as if it were written in Morse code.

It means microwaving most meals or inverting the food pyramid because everyone’s got to die of something. It’s developing muscle spasms from watching TV in a funny position and it’s coming to terms with the fact that your only post-graduation plans include a lunch reservation following the ceremony.

But the beauty of “something” is that it doesn’t discriminate. If I’ve learned anything at Penn, it’s how utterly impressive something can be. We create start-ups, bear our souls, build machines, write movies, stay up until 4 a.m. debating the existence of God.

Come Monday, some of us will be ushered out of this place by way of overpriced polyester gowns and makeshift diplomas until the real ones arrive in the mail. We’ll officially shed a label we’ve carried around for the past four years and trade in our collegiate hubris for slacks and Splenda in bulk.

Of course, we’ll still be twentysomethings a while longer. God forbid we go uncategorized for a day. I propose that between our ill-fated stereotype and the anomalous geniuses we produce, there be room for us to just be before we become.

I can’t purport to have all the answers of millennialdom at the ripe age of 21. But I can say there’s no other artificially defined social cohort I’d rather be a part of. In the midst of economic collapse, the death of courtship and shrinking attention spans, we’re celebrating the latest Emoji upgrade and reshaping the world all at the same time.

And that’s something.

Nadine Zylberberg is a College senior and communications and cinema studies major from Boca Raton, Fla. She is a former features editor and columnist, writing “Twentysomething” for the past semester. After graduation, Nadine is moving to New York. Her email address is

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