All around the world people know this name. They knew it before; they will really know it now.
In case you’ve been under a rock, or fixated on some celebrity weddings, you know she is the seventeen-year-old winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, and she’s addressed the United Nations on the topic of girls’ education. She first became notable when she survived an attack by the Taliban for going to school.
And Joshua Wong. He’s the skinny nerd with dark-rimmed glasses who commanded 100,000 people in Hong Kong, following his movement called Scholarism. He is also seventeen.
These are kids too young to vote in places like the US. They are supposed to be in school, following the instructions of their teachers to a T. They are supposed to be taking tests, and accumulating credentials so they can go to college to learn how to be leaders.
Ironically, their identity is partly as students, yet they are noteworthy for actions not taught in school. And nobody taught them to stand up to convention, to challenge the status quo, yet they have done this.
Courage and commitment can emerge from people with brave back stories, or out of a spark of indignation. This can occur at any age.
Teenagers in history have often been the ones to confront injustices. Think of Joan of Arc, or Romeo and Juliet. (They might be fictional, but we believe in them.) Maybe they are not “realistic” enough. Maybe they have not “learned” to behave. Maybe they have rejected the lessons adults have tried to teach.
Chairman Mao and the Beatles knew the power of youth. Their popularity spread that way.
We often underestimate the capabilities of teenagers, regarding them as narcissistic and shallow, fixated on gossip and fashion.
But maybe that’s because we don’t expect any more of them than that.
I am heartened by the vigor of these young heroes. Let them show us the way!
And how many more amazing young folks are out there, stifled by low expectations and meaningless demands?
Come out, come out, wherever you are! We need you.