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Young people's voices being heard. Ilona's Dougherty's Lecture!

Hi everyone! My name is Thamira Seralathan and I'm going into grade 11 at Lester. B Pearson CI. Apart of the weekly lecture series at the Illuminate Leadership Academy last Monday, we had the pleasure of meeting Ilona Dougherty. Here are my thoughts highlighting what I learned!

Ilona Dougherty is the co-creator and managing director of the youth and innovations project at the University of Waterloo. She is a wonderful leader and speaker as we learned a lot during the time we spent with her. Her lecture aided the understanding about youth and getting our voices heard. She started the lecture by asking us to introduce ourselves and then asked us if we were ever in a situation where we felt that our voices weren’t being heard, because we were young. The majority of us said yes, depending on the situation we were in, our voices aren’t heard all the time when around adults.

She first went over the historical context which was about 200 years ago where the gap between young people and adults began. Before the industrial revolution, having many children was a good thing for the economy as many families had young people helping out on the farms so more children, more hands. At this time young people had more responsibilities. However, when the industrial revolution began and child labor started to decrease, the kids who did work have nothing to do and they ended up participating in petty crimes. This was when the term Juvenile Delinquents started and defined the beginning of criminals. Now you might wonder about the concept of school, which is a very common and public thing for kids nowadays, but back in the day school was only considered for the elites. Since the juvenile delinquents started participating in crimes, to keep them out of trouble, school became a more public thing for all children. School, the Peer Culture, etc all led to the gap between adults and the younger generation evolving, which still exists today.

There have been stereotypes for over 200 years and the separation of young people from the world of adults began through those stereotypes. Adults fear the different opinions that youth may have as they tend to be risk-takers. One thing Ilona said that stuck with me was “we already are something, but they have created this thing where we need to stuff info into our brains to step into the “real world”.” The stereotypes that have automatically been created make us believe that until a certain age we are too young to speak up because we don’t have enough knowledge to know what we’re talking about and only adults do.

Ilona then started to talk about neuroplasticity, and then how parts of our brain don’t mature until we turn 25, but other parts of the brain hit a peck at 15 and decline at 25. She then told us to take advantage of our youth and to remember that you have the most experience as a young person.

When Ilona was 17 she went to the UN and was at the table, but they had meetings without her and her opinions weren’t always heard because she was young. She also mentioned that if she were to re-do the event she would approach the situation differently. We should stay at the table and make every effort to have our voices heard, we must also take care of ourselves and realize that there will be moments where we have to walk away from barriers. It’s all a learning experience.

Overall, it was a pleasure meeting Ilona Dougherty and learning about young people’s voices being heard. I never realized how much of an impact the stereotypes affect how young people may think and her lecture really helped me understand that it’s all just stereotypes, and how we are already something as our voices are important!


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