I’m 17 by Kate Simonds at TEDxBoise (Full Transcript)

Kate Simonds

Full text of Kate Simonds, senior at Timberline High School, on I’m Seventeen at TEDxBoise conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: MP3 – I’m 17 by Kate Simonds at TEDxBoise


Hi everyone. My name is Kate Simonds, and I’m 17. Upon hearing me say this or seeing the title of this talk, “I’m 17”, I’m sure you’re thinking: since she’s on the stage, she must have done something incredible that she can teach me about.

Maybe she — I don’t know, what did she do to deserve a TED talk? Did she accidentally make millions from investing in a successful startup company at age 15?

Maybe she cured some disease accidentally while interning in a lab or maybe she received a perfect score on her SATs at the age of 7.

Did I do any of those things? No.

I haven’t done any of these things unfortunately so here’s the reason why I’m talking today: When I took this stage, you all assumed that I’m some child genius or some accredited creator because I’m 17. I must have done something worthy of your attention.

Yet, the only qualification to being a TED speaker is to have an idea. An idea you think is worth spreading. And that’s the problem.

Because I’m 17 and I’m on this stage, you’re only respecting me because I’m on this stage. Maybe it’s because you like my extremely high heels but I don’t think that’s the reason why I should have your respect. I don’t think that I should have to be a high school millionaire or to have cured an epidemic to be worth listening to.

I think that any idea should be respected no matter the age of who it comes from. My voice has been disrespected what seems like hundreds of times. I’ve been told by adults that I’m not ready to vote even though I keep up with politics, and I’m sure of my beliefs.

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I’ve been told to stop fighting for equality because I have a little voice, and it won’t fix anything. The difference is, no one would say those things to an adult. Any adult that fights for a cause like that would be deemed a courageous and dedicated hero but because I’m 17, I’m naïve and ignorant.

And I have years of experience of my voice not mattering and not being respected. I’m even told, according to a Life Science article from 2008, that because I’m a teenager, I can’t experience empathy which is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Now, without any quantifiable data or scientific evidence I can prove that article wrong. Here’s how.

I did it about a minute ago when I understood the assumptions you made when I took this stage. Now with empathy because I can relate to you, I understand your hesitations to my qualifications because when I was picked for this TED talk, I wondered the same thing.

I’m just a 17 year old, what do I know? What can I teach you about?

But by this time, I hope I’ve gained your respect. I say “gained” because unlike the other speakers, I didn’t have it initially. There was an inherent paradigm of doubt. And this surrounds all students. The reason I’m so passionate about this is because of my work with a local non-profit organization which is called One Stone.

One Stone is a student-run, official 501(c) non-profit, and after joining as a sophomore in high school, I learned how to create a budget, how to run an interview, how to speak in front of large groups like this one and most importantly, how to problem solve. Surrounded by high school students, no one ever questioned the validity of my thoughts. And let me tell you, we’ve got stuff done. But things would change the second I’d leave the building. I’d try talking to an adult about something I’d be working on, my research or a project, and they would ask me, “What do you know?”

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And all teens are asked this, “What do you know? How could you know this? You’re only a teenager.”  We are asked this when we talk about politics, or education, even with what we want to do with our lives because we’re “too young to understand.”

Just because we have vertical driver’s licenses and you all have horizontal driver’s licenses, apparently, we don’t know what love is. We can’t know what we should or shouldn’t believe, we don’t get to talk about education or politics because we don’t live in the “real world”. We actually do not get to speak for ourselves.

Now at this point, you may have noticed that I’m not using slides. Part of the reason why is that I don’t really need them but to be honest with you, the real reason why is that this is a really unique chance for a student like me to have your attention, so I’m going to strategically direct 100 % of it to myself.

This problem is bigger than it sounds. From my contrasting experiences at One Stone and with the help of the amazing teachers I’ve had, I’ve become fully aware of the constant belittling that occurs to student voices. This problem is big.

Look at our education system; as students, we have no say in what we learn or how we learn it, yet we’re expected to absorb it all, take it all in, and be able to run the world someday. We’re expected to raise our hands to use the restroom, then 3 months later be ready to go to college or have a full time job, support ourselves and live on our own. It’s not logical.

My mum is an elementary school teacher. And I always hear her and her colleagues talking about how kindergarteners, when asked a question, are thrilled to be raising their hands, all of them. Yet, as you increase the grade level, fewer and fewer hands are raised each year.

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Now, in my senior classes in high school, it’s common that, when asked a question, no one raises their hand, and the teacher has to call out names from a roster. I think this is because A), students aren’t confident in their own answers, B) students have been made fun of for answering too many questions correctly, or C) the students aren’t listening. Maybe they’re texting in their lap or most likely, just extremely disinterested.

And these are all three really big problems. Students have lost sight of their education’s value and have therefore stopped learning.

Because we’re told, “You don’t get it, you’re 17. You don’t deserve to have the control over what you learn.” And this statement and this mindset are toxic. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve begun to stop listening to ourselves.

Sometimes, I’ll catch myself on a wild train of thought and stop myself thinking, “Self, stop thinking about this. You’re only 17, you don’t know anything about psychology. What are you doing? Stop!” This is me, someone who totally believes in the validation of everyone’s ideas and is doing a TED Talk on the validation of everyone’s ideas, is discrediting my own because my thoughts don’t come from an adult mind.

Last spring, my friend and I started a club. Both of us are very outspoken, and we saw this as an opportunity to make a difference in our school. Now we anticipated that it might take some work to convince the adults of our mission but we didn’t realize that the real challenge would be convincing our classmates that we could make a change as students.

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