"That's a good one right there," Colbert said. "Superpowers don't last forever, and the U.S. is on the decline. It's inevitable."
Ana Vigil, 18, works as the weekend receptionist at an urgent-care clinic, and has to turn away patients if they don't have insurance. She can't understand why politicians haven't been able to fix this problem when voters time and again put healthcare coverage among their top priorities.
"They hear what we have to say, but they don't listen," said Vigil, who hopes to become a doctor. "It turns me off politics."
Vanessa Rice's disillusionment stems from watching nearly all her friends from rural New Mexico drop out of college one by one, convinced that even a degree won't help them better their lives.
"I see so many people who think 'I don't matter,' " said Rice, 20, a chemistry major. "They don't see themselves as part of the bigger picture. They don't feel they can have an impact or really play a part" in mainstream society.
Rice plans to finish her degree, but she increasingly feels that disconnect as well: As soon as she graduates, she hopes to leave the U.S. for good. She'd like to live in Italy.
Both Democratic candidates have worked hard to overcome the cynicism of Generation Y. Clinton has promised to set up a team of government bloggers to explain where tax dollars go and what the bureaucracy does. Obama has vowed to make government cool again.
That pledge drew a snort of derision from Nick Atencio, 20, a biology major. A new administration might try to change Washington culture, but the old guard is bound to resist, Atencio said.
He looked toward Lucas Gallegos -- "my one liberal friend" -- for another opinion.
Gallegos, 21, nodded assent. "The government's too messed up for it to change that much," he said.
Nonetheless, the friends both plan to vote. "You still do hold out hope that [politicians] will do what they say, and that they can make a difference," Atencio said. He looked down, almost embarrassed to be caught with a flicker of idealism.
His friend Ashley Enriquez, a business major, put down her bag of chips and spoke up, as if reassuring him: "It's our chance to have a voice."
Even Schreiber, the student who works nights as a janitor, plans to go to the polls. He complains that America has stopped listening to the middle class and the poor: "We've lost the [ideal] that all the people have something to say." Government, he says, seems to be run by, and for, the wealthy.
But he can't help thinking it's his duty to do what he can to make his voice heard. It may be "false optimism," he said, "but I still think, someday it's going to get better."