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The freshman zeitgeist - from Al Qaeda to tying a Windsor knot

In coming weeks, millions of students will be entering college for the first time. On average, members of the class of 2009 are 18 years old, which means they were born in 1987. Starbucks, souped-up car stereos, telephone voice-mail systems, and Bill Gates have always been a part of their lives. They've grown up with CNN, home computers, AIDS awareness, digital cameras, and the Bush political dynasty.

Each August, as students arrive here, we compile the Beloit College Mindset List, a worldview of today's entering freshmen. The list is distributed to faculty as an important reminder of the touchstones and benchmarks of a generation. It's not serious in-depth research, nor is it a chronology. But it's accurate as an event horizon of this generation's experience, and is meant to be thought-provoking fun.

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Here are some features of the world as this year's freshmen have known it in their conscious lifetime:

• Andy Warhol, Liberace, and Jackie Gleason have always been dead.

• They don't remember when "cut and paste" involved scissors.

• Al Qaeda has always existed with Osama bin Laden at its head.

• Wayne Gretzky never played for Edmonton.

• Boston has been working on the Big Dig all their lives.

• With little need to practice, most of them do not know how to tie a necktie.

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• Pay-per-view has always been an option.

• They never had the fun of being thrown into the back of a station wagon with six others.

• They learned to count with Lotus 1-2-3.

• Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker have never preached on TV.

• "Whatever" isn't part of a question but an expression of sullen rebuke.

• The federal budget has always been more than a trillion dollars.

• Condoms have always been advertised on television.

• They've always had the right to burn the flag.

• Money put in their savings account the year they were born earned almost 7 percent interest.

• Southern fried chicken, prepared with a blend of 11 herbs and spices, has always been available in China.

• The Starship Enterprise has always looked dated.

• Pixar has always existed.

• It has always been possible to walk from England to mainland Europe on dry land.

• They've grown up in a single superpower world.

• They missed the oat bran diet craze.

• American Motors has never existed.

• Les Mis has always been on stage.

• "Baby M" may be a classmate.

• RU-486, the "morning-after pill," has always been on the market.

• Snowboarding has always been a popular winter pastime.

• Biosphere 2 has always been trying to create a revolution in the life sciences.

• Researchers have always been looking for stem cells.

• They do not remember "a kinder and gentler nation."

• They never saw the shuttle Challenger fly.

• Airports have always had upscale shops and restaurants.

• Black Americans have always been known as African-Americans.

• They never saw Pat Sajak or Arsenio Hall host a late-night show.

• Matt Groening has always had a Life in Hell.

• Salman Rushdie has always been watching over his shoulder.

• Tom Landry never coached the Cowboys.

• The Field of Dreams has always drawn people to Iowa.

• Jimmy Carter has always been an elder statesman.

• Miss Piggy and Kermit have always dwelt in Disneyland.

• "Americas's Funniest Home Videos" has always been on television.

• There has always been a pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris.

Tom McBride is Keefer professor of the humanities and directs the First Year Initiatives program for entering students at Beloit College in Beloit, Wis. Ron Nief is director of public affairs at the college.