If they are the future, then the future's real bright.
Often, people are asked about who their role models are, the people that they admire and look up to.
And, often, those role models have left their impression earlier in their lives and are older than those that admire them. Or, even have already passed away.
Although I admire those older than myself and that have lived before me, I also have found inspiration in those younger than me.
I am a Millennial and find myself finding role, more and more, within Gen Z.
Generation Z is defined by those born between the years 1997 and 2010. This is the most diverse, most technologically-adapted, and most globally-social generation to have ever existed. They are pragmatically realistic, independent, and will demand more for themselves because they know that they have the right to.
We have heard about the great accomplishments of this generation so far (to the point where memes about unaccomplished-feeling Millennials are growing rapidly). We know about the whiz kids and the youngest Nobel Laureates that show up in the media every so often, that we applaud in the moment.
But, I still hear adults chiding the youngest generation in conversations laden with disapproval, wondering why those 'kids' make such a fuss.
These are (some of) those amazing humans born into Generation Z.
1. Malala Yousafzai
Malala is most well-known for being the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate). She has been fighting for girl's education in the most oppressive regimes and advocating for educational reform internationally since she was eleven years old. Her most recognizable quality, however, is her insistence on nonviolent action while fighting for human rights.She most famously said, "I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. [. . .] But then I said, 'If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. [. . .] I will tell him how important education is and that 'I even want education for your children as well.'"
2. Sophie Cruz
Sophie was five years old when, in 2015, she made her first impression on Pope Francis when she ran to his car when he visited Washington D.C. to leave him a note urging action to protect the DAPA. She met President Obama in 2016 for Cinco de Mayo and speak about her goals.
Her activism was developed from her desire to keep her undocumented parents legally in the United States. She most recently spoke at the 2017 Women's March on Washington D.C. to protest against Trump's inauguration when she was seven years old.
3. Jazz Jennings
As the youngest documented person, at the age of five, to be identified as having gender dysphoria and to come out as transgender, Jazz has spent her life in the public eye as an advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community.Her journey was documented in her own reality TV show following her life as a young trans girl. It earned a GLAAD Media Award for best Outstanding Reality Program. She is a role model for young trans people who deserve to see the recognition of the validity of their identity.
4. Greta Thunberg
Greta is a climate change activist whose actions fueled the worldwide school strikes for climate change which, to date, have involved millions of students internationally simultaneously marching for climate change reform. Besides her moving words, which have been forever documented as some of the best speeches we've ever heard, I admire her bluntness and disregard for pandering adults.
As a teen on the autism spectrum, Greta's representation matters for those teens who may have been otherwise convinced by adults that their backgrounds will hinder their abilities. She has, also, been nominated for a Nobel Prize.
5. Easton LaChappelle
After entering a science fair with a mechanical hand initially made of Legos, Easton developed his technology to the point where he is now one of the leaders in the field of 3-D printed prosthetics. He, later, worked on printing a 3-D prosthetic arm for a nine year old girl who otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford one. He is also CEO and founder of Unlimited Tomorrow, Inc. which develops prosthetic technologies.
6. Ann Makonsinski
Winning the Google Science Fair with her thermoelectric flashlight, Ann developed a device which would allow for a heat source without batteries, and instead would be run off the heat of the human hand. She has gone on to develop more devices, while working with alternate energy sources, that could be used in developing and low-resource areas.
7. Mari Copeny
In her quest to provide the residents of Flint, Michigan with adequate water sources, Mari was only eight when she met President Obama who eventually authorized money for the Flint water system. She continued to provide her community, organizing for there to be hundreds of thousands of bottles for the residents. Her organization and supporters have hosted events for the young people of Flint and continues to be a representative and spokesperson for those who have been neglected by the government.
8. Xiuhtezcatl Martinez
Xiuhtezcatl has been working as a youth director and indigenous activist through Earth Guardians, a conservation organization, and his music to convey the message of climate change and bureaucratic negligence to the public. He is currently one of the plaintiffs in two cases concerning suing governments for failing to address and pass laws to stop climate change.
9. Julia Bluhm
Taking on an entire industry wasn't an easy battle for Julia, but she proved that young people were ready for a change when she led a petition for Seventeen Magazine to show a realistic representation of bodies with their models in the magazines. Although it wasn't expected, she was successful and the fashion magazine issued a Body Peace Treaty which held them to showing real, non-Photoshopped people in their issues.
Emma González and the students of Stoneman Douglas High School
Since she became a survivor of the 2018 Parkland high school shooting, Emma has been heavily-involved in Never Again MSD, a gun-control advocacy group which she co-founded with her fellow classmates and survivors. She has spoken on multiple platforms and has become a national icon for Generation Z and the insistence on government accountability.
We have all heard about their bravery and strength in the year since the traumatic event, but we don't talk enough about how they shouldn't have had to experience this anyways. The walls that young people have faced for years when it comes to the "adults in-charge" are ridiculous when one hears what their advocating for — the safety and preservation of education institutions.
We're inheriting a world that has been battered and ransacked by previous generations. Both Millennials and Gen Z have to live on a planet with extreme climate change, cases of inhumane economic disparity, and rampant inequality for all kinds of minorities.
We — they — are doing the best that can be done.
And, yet, there are some of the next generation that are taking the further step. Forget doing what is possible. They push the boundaries of possibility and the expectations for young people and children every day.
This is an appreciation of one of the bravest generations.
Not because they have fought on the front lines or defended their countries (although some have already), but because they have the will to not be silenced.