CHANCELLOR GORDON GEE OF VANDERBILT University in Nashville, Tennessee, rifles through a stack of index cards with irrepressible enthusiasm. The cards are strewn with scribbled notes from conversations with many of his university's approximately 5,000 undergraduates. "I've been studying these to find a common thread," Chancellor Gee says, "a label for this generation. They're not the 'Me Generation.' They're definitely not GenXers. I'm calling them the Spiritual Generation. They love each other, and they love their families."

Gee, who during the last quarter century has served as president of five universities—Brown, Ohio State, University of Colorado, West Virginia, and now Vanderbilt—says the purposefulness of this age group is something new. "They're intuitive. They understand the complexities of the world. They have a maturity and a deep wisdom. They're interested in issues of morals, in values, in how they can make a difference. They're interested in what they can do to make this a better world."

Data from a recently released survey by Harvard University's Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government echoes this claim. In addition to the fact that 44 percent of college undergraduates attend religious services (the highest rate of attendance since the 1950s), engagement in local, national, and global communities is at a level not seen for decades. College students' weekly participation in community service activities has more than doubled in the last four years. Nearly nine in ten students (87 percent) believe that politics are relevant to their lives, an increase of 25 percent since April 2000.

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