Portland Teens Taught Us How to Be Cool

Our Kids Issue also explores the dysfunction of school auctions, the evolution of Northwest Children’s Theater, and what second graders really think of Portland.

The Rebel energy drink at Dutch Bros comes in flavors that sound like the names of nu metal bands (Aftershock, Double Rainbro), is jammed with more ice than Mt. Hood Skibowl, and often tastes overwhelmingly like raspberry syrup.

We have it on good authority that it is the status symbol of the Class of 2026.

At least, if you take their word for it. Over the past month, we turned to student journalists at two very different Portland high schools, asking them about coffee, fashion, food, music, social media, video games and more. It’s thanks to them that we finally understand the joys of Neymar jerseys and grilled cheese paired with hot chocolate.

Of course, it’s always possible they were making fun of us. My generation (greetings, fellow millennials) grew up reading about how Sub Pop Records employees in Seattle tricked The New York Times into believing the Gen X grunge scene used slang like “wack slacks” and “lamestain.”

But this new generation is…super nice?

Patiently, they answered our questions (kudos to the kids who had to explain Snapchat to me in terms their grandparents could understand). Yet just as often, they turned them inside out, not just answering, but delivering disarmingly sharp insight into Taylor Swift’s popularity, the prevalence of baggy pants, and Portland’s reputation as a miserable city for walking. Even the most straightforward questions provoked nuanced answers, a theme that runs throughout the following pages.

The kids may be more than all right, but their parents definitely aren’t, as shown by the second story in this package—about the discord and excess surrounding school auctions and what it means for our city’s embattled, hollowed-out public schools. And while we were heartened to discover the wonders of Northwest Children’s Theater’s new headquarters, a series of interviews with second graders about Portland brought home a sobering truth: It’s always hard to be young, and it’s arguably even harder in 2023.

One 8-year-old summed up the struggles of the moment perfectly, saying her favorite thing about Portland was “nothing” and her least favorite thing about Portland was “everything.”

That’s dispiriting to hear, but it’s also inspiring that she had the courage to say it. And it sounded like the words of someone who’s ready to do what few generations achieve: get shit done.

The voices of the future are here. We believe in them.

—Bennett Campbell Ferguson, Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

Student Journalists School WW on What’s Hot and What’s Not

Are Lavish School Auctions a Crass Relic? Or the Way to Give Dwindling Classrooms a Future?

Second Graders at Sunnyside Environmental School Sound Off About What They Like and Dislike Most About Portland

Northwest Children’s Theater Opens The Judy

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.