Young People Are the Geniuses Who Change the World

Change the World

At Choose2Matter, our opening line in speaking to young adults is “You Are a Genius, and the World Needs Your Contribution.” Next, we tell them they can change the world.

Why do we say this?

Because studies show that, at the age of five, 100% of students believe they can, and will, change the world. When I visit with first-graders, they always confirm this by enthusiastically charging the stage en masse when I invite them to share their genius and tell me their ambitions for changing the world.

By the age of 9, only half of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

By the age of 16, just 2% of students believe they are geniuses who can change the world.

When I visit high schools, I see something very different than I do in elementary schools. The genius is still there, but it’s buried under years of schooling. How? I’ve actually had educators and parents comment on my posts that we shouldn’t tell students they can change the world, because it sets unrealistic expectations. My response: unrealistic for whom?

Fortunately, I’ve seen again and again how little it takes to bring this genius back to the surface and set students on their path to changing the world.

So what about the 2% who doesn’t need to be invited to share their genius with the world? What happens when students, on their own, decide they can change the world?


Malala Yousafzai – Supporter of Girls’ Access to Education and Empowerment

In October 2012, a member of Pakistan’s Taliban tried to silence support for girls’ access to education by shooting an outspoken, and well-spoken, proponent of women empowerment. The mighty proponent who so frightened the Taliban with her words was 15 year-old Malala Yousafzai. Malala recovered from her injuries and is now bringing even greater attention to the issue of universal access to education.

July 12, Malala’s 16th birthday, was declared “Malala Day” by the United Nations. Malala delivered a powerful speech at the UN, in which she said, “Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution.”

Jack Andraka – Creator of Pancreatic Cancer Detection Test

Jack Andraka was only 15 years old when, “undeterred, due to my teenage optimism,” he developed a novel way to test for pancreatic cancer. In his inspiring TED Talk, Andraka explains how, even after nearly 200 professors refused to work with him, he persevered. Approximately 40,000 people die a year from pancreatic cancer, because by the time symptoms are presented in patients it is often too late for doctors to help. Andraka’s test may some day save tens of thousands of lives each year.

Mallory Fundora – Founder of Project Yesu

As she began her Christmas list in 2010, Mallory Fundora realized that she had everything she needed, and that she wanted to give back. Mallory began Project Yesu, which has since turned into an organization, to spread the word about bringing food, medicine and education to children in Africa.

In her blog, Mallory explains why she thinks everyone can make a difference: “I want to show people what a difference one person can make…Kids have good ideas, and you know what? We don’t know all the reasons why it won’t work, we just know we what we want to do.”

Kaitlin Brand – My Secrets Video

In a moving and courageous video, Kaitlin Brand, a sixteen year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan, shares her very personal message about suicide.

Although Kaitlin doesn’t say a single word, her video speaks volumes, as she holds up pieces of paper explaining how she found her Mom hanging in her backyard after committing suicide.

Strong but humble, Kaitlin asks viewers to seek help if they are having suicidal thoughts. The video has gone viral and touched people around the world.

Katie Stagliano – Katie’s Krops

After Katie Stagliano grew a 40-pound cabbage and fed people at a soup kitchen with her cabbage, she knew she had to do more. Even though Katie was in the third grade, she felt she could help others. As Katie explains on the website Katie’s Krops, “My dream is that there are no hungry people.

Since that time over five years ago, Katie has persuaded her high school to grow food and has worked with large organizations to grow food for soup kitchens. She has no plans to stop. In fact, as Katie says, “I want more people to get involved, more people to help in the fight against hunger. Growing vegetables is fun and it is so great to help people. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Richard Turere – Inventor of “Lion Lights”

Having found his family’s only bull dead after an attack from lions, Richard Turere a 13 year-old from the Masai community in Kenya, felt there had to be a way to protect his family’s livestock from the lions who roam over from Nairobi National Park.

After fire and scarecrows failed to work, Richard took to walking around his cowshed with a torch. He realized that lions were afraid of moving light. By making solar powered flashing lights, he was able to keep the lions away from his family’s cowshed. His invention has now been adopted at farms all over Kenya.

Cassandra Lin – Co-founder of Project T.G.I.F (Turn Grease Into Fuel)

Cassandra Lin, a Westerly 7th grader, found the solution to many problems at once when she co-founded Project T.G.I.F (Turn Grease Into Fuel).

While ttending the Rhode Island Green Expo in 2008, Lin learned it is possible to turn cooking oil into biodiesel fuel. She was also aware that her community had a program for helping those in need with heating oil during the winter.

As Lin explains to Business Innovation Factory, she also knew that sewage pipes in her town were being clogged with the very cooking oil that could be turned into biodiesel, “We looked at an array of problems to see what we could solve in our own community.” To date, Project TGIF has donated over 21,000 gallons of BioHeat to local charities in Rhode Island, heating the homes of 210 local families.

Mikey Stolzenberg – Mikey’s Run

After the Boston bombing, 13 year-old Mikey Stolzenberg wanted to help the survivors of the blast. Mikey knows what the amputees would have to deal with. In 2008, his hands and feet were amputated in an effort to save his life from a skin infection that turned into septic shock,  and then gangrene.

As Mikey told The Huffington Post, “First, they will be sad. They are losing something they will never get back, and it’s scary. I was scared. But they’ll be OK. They just don’t know that yet.

Mikey and his seventeen year-old brother Harris plan to raise one million dollars to donate to the survivors of the bombing and are taking donations and pledges through Mikeysrun, as Harris trains to run the 2014 Boston Marathon. Oprah Winfrey donated $100,000 dollars to the cause.

Rachel Wheeler – Building Homes in Haiti

Rachel Wheeler, a sixth grader, was inspired to help those affected by the earthquake in Haiti. She explained to The Huffington Post, “You can’t just sit around and think about doing it. You got to actually get out there and do it.” So she began working with Food for the Poor, which feeds people around the world, and to-date has worked to donate enough money to build 27 homes in an area hit hard by the earthquake.

She now plans to rebuild a school that was destroyed during the earthquake.



Art by: Karbacca

My life path has always been about teaching and communication. My twenty years as an educator and my passionate pursuit of literacy and learning, gave me the healthy dose of courage and skills that have led me through a wonderful variety of experiences, including classroom and University teaching, instructional coaching, research, writing, publishing, corporate training, and starting my own business.

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