Hi everyone! I hope you are having a fantastic morning, afternoon, or evening from wherever you are reading this blog! My name is Rizwan Tahmeed, a Grade 11 student at Woburn Collegiate Institute. Today, I had the pleasure to attend Illuminate Leadership Academy Lecturer Ilona Dougherty’s presentation on the power of youth and unique skills we can offer to adults to assist in improving society for future generations. Ilona Dougherty is the co-creator and managing director of the youth and innovations project at the University of Waterloo. Her research focuses on how young people are valued, understood, and engaged in society and the economy. Her research aims to push beyond the current assumptions of youth and demonstrate the ideas they can bring to the table.
Before getting into the highlights, it was an honor to attend Ilona’s lecture. The session was different compared to the others. This lecture focused on youth’s abilities and the impact we can generate in society due to our skills and neuroplasticity. In other words, some parts of the brain decline at 25, but reach their peak at the age of 15. Thus, the skills we have are impactful and prime in our early years, which is why it is so crucial to use our brain’s peak during our youth.
One of the key takeaways from the lecture was the unique traits youth has from age 15 to 25. As I was listening to those traits, I was surprised since some of those traits listed are ones I actually use in my other roles in school and society. As a result of these traits, we can innovate and bring impact through radical methods, which can help us find solutions to challenges or problems we face as a society as long as we are meaningfully engaged. Some examples of the traits are as follows:
Visionaries: Youth can dream big and approach problems with the mindset that everything is possible and nothing is impossible. We can turn imagination into reality and implement solutions that are innovative and help in achieving the big picture.
Observant: Youth is sensitive to their soundings and are super attentive to their actions, thoughts, other people’s behavior, and situations. We can observe the circumstances around us and take into consideration what is effective and what is not when making decisions.
Collaborative: Youth value relationships and enjoy working with others who can offer a different perspective on the problem or situation. We realize the importance of a team and the impact that can be generated by working with several people instead of individually.
Creative: Youth are less bound by social rules and are creative thinkers. We can think of creative solutions without any limitations or boundaries when we encounter a problem, challenge, or situation.
Experimentation: Youth are always open to taking up new challenges, opportunities, and experiences. We are more open-minded in what opportunities we take and are always looking to learn from someone or something.
Curious: Youth are primed to learn more about their surroundings and the world around them to develop professionally and personally. We always are curious about topics we find interesting to us and are continuously open to learning. There are things that people can teach even though we may see it at first.
Challenge the Status Quo: Youth are prone to departing from current systems and strategies and apply ideas that are radical in nature. We are always looking to implement innovative and different ideas or systems that help achieve a win-win solution and satisfy all parties involved.
Another one of my key highlights was the tips she left us with after her presentation, which were to embrace your role, build integrational relationships, and stay at the table. Speaking to the first one, we should treat everything as a learning experience while contributing ideas and opinions. She mentioned that she attended a program as a part of an opportunity to learn, but she was not able to speak, offer her suggestions, and voice her ideas, which she would change if she had another chance.
The second one is about building relationships with various people who interest me and can establish a strong bond with me, not just successful people or aspiring adults. She mentioned how her team was able to assist her in reaching out to Elections Canada where they were able to be recognized for their efforts despite them being a small team. This experience shows that even if the group is small or the quantity is low, the quality of the relationships and the strength of rapport is more impactful.
The third and final one is staying at the table. Even though we may not be needed or have a say in a conversation or issue being discussed, our unique traits and observations may come in at a crucial time. Sometimes we do have to move away from the table and not be involved in the conversation, but staying at the table and pitching in where least expected may inspire others to value your opinion more since we have more experience. To validate this, Ilona mentioned a significant quote that shows this is, which is “A lot of times adults want your presence and not your voice.”
Before Ilona ended her lecture, she left us with a challenge, which was to share an infographic (see below) and show how we can apply these lessons to our daily life.
As someone who is involved in several school organizations and clubs, my work primarily focuses on leading them and collaborating with team members. When I run or partake in these organizations, I often do not “embrace [my] role” fully or build integrational relationships. Sometimes, the meetings don’t go as planned, and decisions are not made even when we have numerous items to decide on. However, moving forward in my role, I can utilize her tips to my advantage. This means employing my role as a team member and approaching them in a friendly and open manner. I will also start contributing more and stop overanalyzing or observing since I tend to do that sometimes, which can lead to building relationships with the other talented team members. By tuning my approach and using these three tips as my guiding principles, I can form allies, find strengths to delegate tasks, form meaningful friendships, and contribute towards improving the school environment, club, and experience to create a year none like any other.
With the nitty-gritty over with, I can most definitely conclude that the questions asked by Ilona and her valuable research helped me understand the impact I can generate in society, how I can achieve that, and the skills or traits that work in coordination with each other to produce and execute ideas that generate the impact I want to achieve. Ilona's lecture was interactive, relatable, simple, and one that I won’t forget.