THE BLOG

Today's Youth Aren't Waiting To Make Their Mark -- They're Taking It

07/13/2014 09:39 EDT | Updated 09/11/2014 05:59 EDT

Today's Youth Aren't Waiting To Make Their Mark - They're Taking It

The Spice Girls were all about "Girl Power". Yet there is now a new movement in town, which looks a lot like youth power. This theme coincides with the Kielburger brothers' Free the Children phenomenon, empowering youth to "be the change they wish to see in the world."

It is really amazing what young people can accomplish today. But how do we foster and harness this energy? Non-profit organizations like Free the Children, Youth in Motion and Shad Valley, as well as big corporations like RBC Royal Bank and Bell have invested incredible resources, time, and energy to answer this very question. Recruiting emerging talent, and providing them with mentorship, guidance and networking opportunities to help propel these future leaders to the next level and reach their full potential.

I was particularly inspired to write on this topic after attending Youth in Motion's Top 20 Under 20 Awards Breakfast celebration last month in downtown Toronto. Canadian youth from across the country were recognized at the organization's signature event, ranging from 15 to 19 years of age. Their accomplishments in one word -- outstanding, the reaction of the audience -- awestruck. I knew I was off to a memorable morning when I met Jessie MacAlpine from Woodstock, ON seated at my breakfast table. Two-time gold medalist at the Canada Wide Science Fair, Jessie's research on mustard oil as an alternative malaria treatment has earned her recognition as an emerging young scientist to watch.

The top 20 youth were recognized for their contributions in the fields of science, engineering, non-profit and business, and selected through a vigorous panel including Order of Canada recipients. This entrepreneurial bunch has founded numerous organizations and conferences, received gold medals in scientific research, raised impressive funds for charity, and if that is not remarkable enough several honourees are currently in medical school at the same time. I was not surprised to learn that five of this year's recipients are Shad Valley alumni. Their four-week summer enrichment program is taking place this month across 12 Canadian University campuses. Shad Valley like Youth in Motion takes the responsibility seriously of helping to develop Canada's future leaders by partnering with universities, corporations and government to provide learning opportunities, coaching and internships for students completing grade 10, 11 and 12.

Hobnobbing with those there to cheer on the students, the common lament from the professionals in attendance was, "What was I doing when I was a teenager?" While watching the students accept their awards while their video interviews showcased their collective accomplishments, I was taken back to a television show I used to love -- Doogie Howser, M.D., starring Neil Patrick Harris. These young prodigies are likely too young to have watched this sitcom about the trials and tribulations of a teenage doctor.

Bottom line, the world is changing. Students are not waiting to "grow up" to make their mark. Today's wave finds it "cool" to volunteer and give back to their communities. When I was a teenager it was impressive to fast track high-school and graduate early, while today's youth are ON the fast track finding solutions to help better and improve their schools, communities and country. All I can say is I am very proud to be a Canadian.

The last recipient of the morning, Wali Shah from Mississauga had a most impressive story. After being taken away in hand-cuffs and spending a night in jail, he transformed his life and decided to make a positive change, channeling much of his energy and musical talent towards anti-bullying. Now a student at the University of Toronto, motivational speaker raising over $1 million dollars for the United Way, hip hop artist, and spoken word poet. From a recent online video with the Toronto Star, he chants, "Tell kids to dream, change the norms, be the spark....because change starts with me, you, and our community".