1964–1980: Generation X

Paul Ngwenya | Healthcare Management

Here’s to Generation X: The Latchkey kids grown-up and now fiercely independent. A generation with grit, tenacity and passion for success, but often overlooked. The white picket fences of their parents faded away, but they don’t belong to the questioning and technology-native millennials either. They are a generation of focus, resilience and self-reliance formed largely by a time of societal change.

Unlike their parents, Generation X did not grow up in a time of optimism. Their youth was marked by Watergate, layoffs and the brink of war. The baby boomers grew up with the dream of space; GenX witnessed the tragedy of the Challenger. Society expectations were changing. Both parents were in the workforce. Higher education was beginning to become the norm, not the exception.

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Before turning 25, a third of Generation X achieved a bachelor’s degree—more than any generation prior. The continuance of GenX’s pursuit of a college degree has transformed higher education. Instead of only offering a traditional college experience, programs for the adult student have emerged and become commonplace.

In 1996, MBU led an effort for non-traditional students to achieve a degree at the University by opening the first MBU extension site in Moscow Mills, Mo. That single extension site launched a wave of efforts to assist non-traditional students achieve a degree. Today, MBU offers online programs in addition to 11 robust regional learning centers throughout Missouri and Illinois. The pursuit of empowering students to achieve their dreams of degrees has led to partnerships within the St. Louis community, including the largest employer in St. Louis—BJC Healthcare.

Since 2013, MBU’s partnership with BJC Healthcare allows employees to take courses at their work in pursuit of the Bachelor of Professional Studies in Healthcare Management.

Paul Ngwenya—a student in the first BJC cohort—is a young, robust member of Generation X. When he first heard of MBU’s partnership with BJC, he was elated. Ngwenya was a patient care technician on the medical surgical floor of Missouri Baptist Medical Center and was disenchanted with his position. He excelled in patient care, enjoyed camar­aderie with coworkers and was comfortable, but Ngwenya desired something more—an office with a college degree on display.

When Ngwenya entered the cohort, he was empowered by the knowledge, wisdom and expectations from his professors. “They teach me beyond the syllabus,” said Ngwenya. “I look forward to the conversations after class and always walk away full of knowledge.”

After a year of networking with his mentors, Ngwenya received one half of the goal: an office. His role as a new patient coord­inator meant more than just a space of his own, but also a chance to better his life.

The better life is far more than trading in his scrubs for a button-down—it’s the ability to come home every night and never work a weekend or holiday again. It’s a step toward stabilizing his future and providing the best for his children.

Not even multiple sclerosis—an unpredictable, often disabling disease of the central nervous system—could derail his plans for a brighter future.

When Ngwenya lost motor control of his right arm while driving to work, he realized something was terribly wrong. An MRI later, Ngwenya was diagnosed with the cause for his paralysis—he was living with multiple sclerosis. His attack was severe, and he thanks God for recovering from what could have easily been a fatal episode.

Paul Ngwenya

First computing device:
Sega Game Gear

Advice to younger generations:
Take advantage of opportunities.
If you work hard now, your life will be easier later.

Recovering motor functions was not easy—simply moving his fingers was a nearly impossible task.“I thought I was going to be paralyzed,” said Ngwenya. “I couldn’t complete tasks of a 5-year-old—I couldn’t even build with legos.” But Ngwenya was determined that MS would not end his story. “There was really no choice—I could lay in my bed and cry or be strong and move.”

The same determination kept Ngwenya on the path to a bachelor’s degree, and now he plans on pursuing a master’s degree after graduation.

 “I don’t want to stop there,” said Ngwenya. “There is more I need to achieve, and I want to continue to increase the quality of life for me and my family.”

It’s a quest common among the forgotten generation. Instead of living the Norman Rockwell lives of their parents, Generation X has the strength to persevere the changing tides of society. There have been hard times aplenty, but the resilient generation presses on for a quality life and to leave a legacy for the generations to follow.