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The Big Picture

Embracing Today’s Youth as Tomorrow’s Leaders

In 2014, at the age of 17, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, honoring her advocacy for the right of all children to get an education. In 2018 students from Parkland, Florida, catalyzed a national discussion about U.S. gun violence after tragedy befell their school. Last fall Swedish teen Greta Thunberg captured international attention as she sailed across the ocean from Sweden to New York to address the United Nations on the topic of climate change. These are just a few of the most prominent examples of what scholars say is a global rise in teen activism—and they are a reminder to also recognize and honor the potential of teenagers, regardless of whether they make headlines.

One of the great privileges of our work as educational consultants is talking with young people about their aspirations for the future. Every year I am impressed by the thoughtfulness, sense of purpose, and resilience that is evidenced in the students I meet. These students are eager to step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves with classes and extracurricular activities that will broaden their horizons. They commit to serving others as an authentic extension of their values, and they are building the skills to become thought leaders and game changers in whatever fields they will eventually pursue.

It is the job of teens to question the world into which they are born. What adults sometimes describe as teenage rebellion is a critical phase through which young people discover their identities as unique individuals who are enmeshed in larger communities. Every child must take this journey to reach successful adulthood. There simply is no other path. This process also empowers emerging leadership skills, which is why throughout history young people have been at the forefront during key moments of social change. As Nelson Mandela once said, “The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow.” Indeed, it was a student activist movement in the 1980s that raised the level of international attention and pressure to help end South African apartheid.

Amidst a complex and changing world, I have tremendous faith in and optimism for today’s youth. They are curious, compassionate, and creative. And like many generations of teens before them, they are intrinsically wired to balk at the status quo. As parents, educators, and mentors, our job is to listen deeply to young people’s ideas and ideals while we provide education and a safe space for growth. Our reward is to watch young adults mature with a strong foundation of values, the skills and aptitudes to make things happen, and the confidence to determine for themselves where they will go. I am grateful every day to play a role in this pursuit. I look forward to seeing today’s young leaders come into their own and finding out how their fresh perspectives and new discoveries may benefit us all.

Cammie Bertram, founder and president of The Bertram Group, is highly respected within the educational community for her dedication to helping families accomplish their educational goals. She has more than twenty-five years of experience assisting students through both traditional and therapeutic advising at junior, secondary school, and college levels. She can be reached at