*Trigger warning: reference to gun violence, murder*

Upon taking the time to reflect, I realized that my age influences my life – in ways that I wouldn’t have expected. Living in the United States for high school, from 2017-2021, I witnessed many youth-led or youth-involved social movements. March for Our Lives came about during my freshman year, following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Conversations about mental health, including within my own high school, skyrocketed. When COVID-19 hit, youth urged one another and their families to stay home and stay safe. When George Floyd was senselessly murdered, young people joined their voices with the Black Lives Matter movement. Before moving any further, I believe it is important to acknowledge that youth did not necessarily start all of these movements, but often played a role in supporting and amplifying them. I also do not want to diminish the youth who did establish and lead these movements. Ultimately, I want to acknowledge the important role that each of these movements played during my high school years. They inspired me, because I saw myself in the young changemakers participating. For a long time, I believed that because I was in high school, I couldn’t enact actual change. I thought that college was when theĀ doing began. The youth in these social movements showed me that my age could be power. That I could use my youth and energy to fuel movements for what I was passionate about. Yesterday, at a Social Innovation Around the World panel hosted by Duke-UNICEF, social entrepreneurs recommended that if anyone wanted to start an entrepreneurial venture, or to innovate and create something, or to establish a start-up, the key was to start young. Youth can be power. It is a source of boundless energy, of resilience, of strength, and of innocence. Innocence in particular is important. We see the world without jaded eyes. We can see other options, other possibilities, other hopes that people have otherwise abandoned. I am grateful for my age as a source of inspiration and motivation.

In different social contexts, age is an important factor for understanding how to conduct yourself with others. During my time in Mexico and France, age was never extremely explicitly discussed; however, it was understood that you should respect adults. Particularly in an educational context throughout my life, respect was and has always been given to teachers. I believe this was instilled in me throughout my time abroad. Returning to high school in the United States, I was struck by the number of people that I witnessed speaking confrontationally to teachers. That being said, I recognize the importance of challenging authority when something being said is incorrect. Moreover, sometimes when students lash out, it can be because of motivating factors totally external to student-teacher dynamics. However, there were still multiple cases that I witnessed, either of direct confrontation or of backtalk, when students were doing so just to appear “cool.” I think this can come as a shock to various cultures, such more collectivist cultures in East Asia that place a high value on respect for older generations and their wisdom.

It is precisely these cultural differences in values and global perspectives which influence how others’ social identities are perceived. We must be conscious of how each culture approaches values and identities – certain cultures appreciate different elements of identity more and less than others. To build intercultural spaces that welcome, acknowledge, and value all social identities, we must begin by trying as hard as we possibly can to learn about each culture and individual’s background. By understanding the forces that have shaped people’s identities, we ourselves can better understand how to interact with, appreciate, and respect them. We must take it upon ourselves to learn. These processes start with us.