If the goal is to empower today’s youth with a sense of individuality and independence, the speakers at TEDx Youth in Columbia Heights did just that with their audience at today’s Tehnology, Entertainment and Design talk.
As they leave high school and ponder how the rest of their lives are going to pan out, they often do not know how to address that question and operate independently while doing it.
Willie Witte, a “professional road tripper”, artist and film director, said as he grew up in Northern Idaho he had no clue who he would be or how his life would play out. He said as soon as he graduated from high school he went to work in construction because that is what “was expected” of him.
However, he said, he had a breakthrough when he thought about his future and “freaked out.” He left home in Idaho to figure himself out and what he wanted to do, not what others wanted.
“No matter who we are in society, you always have noise from certain people, the media, the people around us and sometimes our family, telling us what we’re supposed to be doing,” Witte said. “From the day we’re born we’re all set to be on one assembly line or another.”
But the youth of today do not have to be stuck on that assembly line, Witte said. They are free to do what they want and find their own destiny–even if they “get lost” while searching.
Getting lost in searching for yourself is a good thing, Witte said, because students always learn more about themselves and about the world while searching for themselves.
TEDx talks are independently hosted by organizers in local areas to create ideas and discussion around different topics normally involving technology, entertainment and design. Today’s topic was independence.
Witte said it is alright for the youth to feel that they are lost. They should have questions about who they are and how they will move into the future.
“In fact, I think that’s how you should feel,” Witte said.
Ruchit Patel, a 17-year-old research intern from New Jersey, said independence comes from always searching for more answers and how to solve new problems. The youth attending today’s talks must seek knowledge, he said, and do advanced work to find independence.
Patel, who is currently a research intern at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, said that despite being just 17, he has interned over the last two summers at different research organizations.
There is a “stigma,” Patel said, when it comes to finding independence at such a young age. Many teenagers and young people are denied jobs and opportunities because organizations will often associate age with experience, he said.
However, Patel said, experience is not created from age. It is created by the activities any individual does within their field.
“I would spread my resume around and some professors would be like ‘Oh, we don’t take high school kids’,” Patel said. “Age isn’t always just about knowledge. It’s about bringing in pure perspective.”
But to foster independence an individual has to be able to think critically, Michael Lai, the lead on student outreach at Minerva Project, said.
The Minerva Project is a startup university seeking to foster more critical thinking and independence in a collegiate atmosphere.
Lai said Students travel with their cohorts to to San Francisco; Berlin, Germany; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Seoul, South Korea; Bangalore, India; Istanbul, Turkey; and London, England.
Many colleges will throw students into a “backyard swimming pool” with water wings, Lai said, and offer more help to students. At Minerva, however, he said, students are thrown into the ocean.
“For us, we throw them into the ocean and give them a really nice surfboard. That is what the real world is like,” Lai said. “They’re in these cities where they’re outside of their comfort zone all the time and building independence.”
Rahm Mohan, the father of Isvari Mohan who participated as a speaker, said that, like Patel, his daughter developed an independent lifestyle at an early age. She knew what she wanted to do early on, he said, and acted quickly to make things happen.
Isvari Mohan, who is studying law at Georgetown and is currently a legal extern at the United States Department of State as well as a staff writer at the Washington Times, is only 18-years-old but has already accomplished so much, Rahm Mohan said.
“She’s here to show that if she can do it, everyone else here can too,” Rahm Mohan said.
As a parent, Rahm Mohan said, it is good to see young people empowering each other and fostering a spirit of independence.
For most people, Patel said, independence does not stop at science and research. The same strategies apply to life in general, no matter what your interests are, he said.
And when a person finally finds what peaks their interest, he said, they must build the proper support system around them to ensure their success.
“Finding the right group and the right people that will help you succeed, I think that is the most important thing,” Patel said. “Then you don’t have people telling you no.”