Youth Have What it Takes - Let Them do the Talking

Stuck to the keyboard pad of my laptop is a floral sticker with a message reminding me that I “have what it takes.” Even now that I am wrapping up my term as Vice President, External Affairs for the Brock University Students’ Union, this sticker continues to serve as a much-needed reminder that although I still have a lot to learn and a lot of room to grow, I am heading in the right direction. This sticker is the first thing I see when I open my laptop in the morning, and the last thing I look at before closing my laptop for the night. I have what it takes, and I am writing to let you know that you do too. 

As youth, we are often made to feel like our voices and opinions don’t matter. We are constantly being told that it is better to leave the big thinking and problem-solving
to the “grown ups” in the room. Why would we ever need to bother wasting our time on something that we are too young, immature or naive to understand? It is comments and assumptions such as these that really upset me as they create a meticulously crafted barrier designed to discourage and prevent youth from voicing their opinions and concerns in the first place, acting as unnecessary roadblocks that are often placed at the very start of their change-making journey’s. 

To this I ask, are we as youth not allowed to change the world that we are destined to inherit? Are we expected to sit idly by as those older than us continue to create a world in which youth are expected to take a back seat and ‘let the grown-ups do the talking?’ I don’t know about you, but I am tired of being told that all I can do is just ‘sit there and look pretty,’ while constantly being exiled to the children’s table. As Shirley Chisholm once said “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair;” I think it’s time to invest in a bigger table because the youth are starting to buy their folding chairs in record numbers.  

Within the traditional spheres of Canadian governance, my presence, and the presence of other student leaders, has been regarded in multiple different ways. I’ve been met with apprehension, had my credibility and intelligence questioned, I’ve been shut out of conversations, and I’ve had my opinions glossed over like they were not even said (or heard) in the first place. But, I’ve also been met with kindness, with genuine interest in what I have to say, and my newfound perspectives were met with appreciation and admiration over my commitment to make change. I’ve been regarded as a youthful breath of fresh air within an often stagnant and resistant political climate, a reaction that I am the most thankful for. 

Although my year in student government is just beginning, my experiences thus far have only continued to reinforce what I have grown up knowing; youth are the future and it is their values, their interests, and their passions that will guide the province… the country… and the world forward. Because of this simple, yet often ignored fact, I am writing to remind my fellow youth that it is okay to be loud about the things that make you passionate - your voice matters (even if you must yell non-stop before anyone hears you). If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that you shouldn’t be afraid to push buttons, step on toes, make waves, or simply take up space. You deserve to be present in the places where decisions are being made so long as you are passionate and proud about what drives you forward.  

I’ve got my folding chair ready… will you meet me at the table?