MILWAUKEE – If you want to feel old, this might do it: Madonna’s daughter, Lourdes Ciccone Leon, has enrolled as a freshman at the University of Michigan.
Leon’s choice of the same university her mother once attended is one of the milestones marked this year by the Beloit College Mindset List, a nonscientific compilation meant to remind teachers that college freshmen, born mostly in 1996, see the world in a much different way.
They’ve grown up with Facebook, selfies and web-based TV. And to them, watching cartoons has meant catching “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” instead of Saturday morning fare.
The compilation, released Tuesday, has been assembled every year since 1998 by Ron Nief and Tom McBride, officials at the private college in southeastern Wisconsin. Over the years it has evolved into a cultural touchstone that entertains even as people wonder where the years have gone.
Here’s a look at a few of the landmark events that took place around 1996, the year Leon and most of her incoming classmates were born:
No. 23: Cloning has always been a fact, not science fiction.
Scottish scientists announced in 1997 that Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned animal, had been born the previous year. She’d been cloned using a process in which DNA was removed from one sheep’s egg cell and replaced with genetic material from another sheep, and then implanted into a surrogate mother. Dolly was euthanized in 2003 after she developed lung disease.
Since then scientists have cloned more than a dozen kinds of mammals, including pigs and lambs.
Dolly’s creation captured the public imagination and instantly became a scientific sensation, opening up a range of human therapeutic options but also raising serious questions about the ethics of cloning.
CASUALTY OF BROWSER WARS
No. 46: They have probably never used Netscape for web browsing.
Netscape Communications helped popularize and commercialize the Internet during the mid-1990s with its Navigator web browser. Around the same time, Microsoft Corp. released the first version of its Internet Explorer browser, which it went on to integrate so tightly into Windows functions that many web users simply used Explorer by default. The U.S. Justice Department and several states ultimately sued Microsoft, accusing it of using its monopoly control over Windows to shut out competitors in other markets. The company fought the charges for years before settling in 2002.
Microsoft’s strategy also contributed to another item on the Mindset List:
No. 37. Bill Gates has always been the richest man in the U.S.
The Microsoft co-founder has been the nation’s wealthiest man for 20 straight years, and the richest in the world for 15 of those years. Forbes estimated his net worth at $72 billion last year, helped by a rebound in Microsoft’s stock price. However, he believes in sharing the wealth. He has helped convince over 100 super-rich people to pledge to donate at least half their net worth to charity.
WOMEN IN SPORTS
No. 32: Female referees have always officiated NBA games.
Violet Palmer broke barriers in 1997 when she became the first woman to referee an NBA game. She withstood plenty of scrutiny from her first tipoff, proving she could handle players’ complaints and histrionics with professionalism. She has officiated playoff games and the 2014 All-Star Game.
In 2012, Shannon Eastin became the first woman to be an official in an NFL regular-season game when she was the line judge in a Rams-Lions matchup. Bernice Gera became the first woman to work in baseball’s minor leagues in 1972 as an umpire in a New York-Penn League game. Pam Postema umpired major league spring training games in 1989 and Triple-A baseball for six seasons.
DEBATE OVER EBONICS
No. 42: “African-American vernacular English” has always been recognized as a distinct language in Oakland, California.
A school board in Oakland sparked a national debate when it suggested that black English was a separate language. Although the board later dropped the suggestion amid criticism, it set off a discussion over whether African American vernacular English, also known as Ebonics, was a language, a dialect or neither.
The board’s initial resolution called for conducting some instruction in Ebonics in recognition of its students’ needs and upbringing. It eventually passed an amended resolution saying African-American languages were not mere dialects of English.
Congress debated the question hotly in 1997 but the issue faded away after a few months.
AIDS DEATHS VS. HIV INFECTIONS:
No. 39: While the number of Americans living with HIV has always been going up, American deaths from AIDS have always been going down.
More than 1.1 million Americans are believed to be infected with HIV, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The number is increasing, in part because medical advances are helping people live longer.
More than 650,000 have already died since the AIDS epidemic began in the U.S. in 1981. The number of deaths peaked in 1995 at 50,877, but declined the following year as multidrug therapy and other treatments became available.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at email@example.com.