It’s only when we give kids opportunities to think about and act upon their highest goals for society that they get a chance to display their initiative and wisdom. In spite of increasing concerns about bullying and youth disengagement there’s reason for optimism about today’s young people.
There are many students who take on leadership roles promoting meaningful social action. Parents and teachers can help teenagers to become proactive, encouraging them to engage in initiatives to help others, or to combat forms of injustice.
For example, high school seniors from across Canada have applied for the 2014 Wiesenthal Scholarships, established four years ago by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC), a non-profit human rights organization that promotes tolerance, social justice, and human rights for all.[i] Applicants must demonstrate leadership skills and involvement in activities that support these ideals, and show evidence that they’ll continue to be purposeful in doing so as they pursue a post-secondary education. Students are eligible to receive one of several scholarships ranging from $1800 to $7200 to apply to their college or university studies and help them attain their goals.
I’ve spent considerable time reviewing applications. As a parent, educator, and co-author of a book about supporting children’s capacities,[ii] I’m no stranger to being moved and inspired by young people who strive to be all they can be. However, I was blown away by the quality of the scholarship applications that I reviewed, and by the ways in which applicants demonstratedthat they‘re making a constructive impact in communities far and wide. It was particularly heartening that so many students expressed an appreciation of the power of education, recognizing it as a means for positive change. It was wonderful to see the strength of their convictions as they endeavor to create a better world and a more inclusive global community. Many of these young people exhibit sophisticated understandings ofresponsibility, diversity, and freedom. They also put forth concerted effort—that is, a willingness to engage, empower, and envision.
These students have gone far beyond mandated community service requirements. And, they ‘re not alone. Indeed, many teenagers invest hundreds of hours leading or being actively involved in meaningful programs and movements within their schools and communities Youth-based efforts include involvement in anti-bullying campaigns, programs to help reduce poverty and hunger, initiatives that speak up for marginalized people and work to oppose hatred, and more.
Albert Einstein said, “Our morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” I commend all students who give of their time and effort to help others, and I hope that, increasingly, many more will follow their lead. May the voices and aspirations of these scholars resonate across the country and beyond, encouraging everyone to think, feel, and take positive action.
[ii] Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (published by House of Anansi Press) is being released summer 2014.