To be Hip-Young-Totally-With-It in Our Changing World
A few weeks ago I had a cup of coffee with a hip-young-totally-with-it teenager. This was during the research stage of the Rising Voices Fellowship, and I was on the lookout for whatever I could learn to make the program a success. At the end of the meeting I had a startling revelation: “My new teenage friend was still in diapers when Britney Spears had her first big hit.” (Followed by the realization of “Holy moly, I might be old.”)
In the initial brainstorming stages of the Rising Voices Fellowship I sat down with quite a few teenagers, and I learned quite a few things. I heard a lot of helpful (and surprising) statements about how feminism is perceived by high schoolers. I discovered that while the Internet is an undeniable force in young peoples lives, it’s not the be-all and end-all of community building. I was impressed over and over again by the thoughtful way that these young women saw themselves in relationship to a long history of Jewish women. I promise you (and not just because I’m invested in the fellowship) that when we launch Rising Voices you will be glued to your screen reading the blog posts of 11th and 12th graders.
I also learned that I might be old—or at least I experienced high school in a different time. My high school years were not that long ago. I graduated in 2000, and my slightly biased math reminds me that it has only been 2 or 3 years since I walked across that stage and found myself grabbing a diploma and booking it out of there for the sweeter pastures of college. In reality, I started high school when Friends was still a new TV show. My junior year of high school saw Google being founded. I graduated high school at a time when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake were still a happy couple showing up to events in matching denim outfits.
Despite all of these differences, the high school girls I recently met—and the applications I’ve read so far—don’t seem that foreign to me. Our culture continues to shift, and the issues that we deal with change their faces. Technology casts a new spotlight on how relationships work, on what we keep private, and how we relate to one another. Yet our struggles—to understand our place in the world, to grow gracefully into adults, to relate to our own histories—remain universal.
There is only one week left for high school girls to apply to the Rising Voices Fellowship, and I look forward to reading the rest of the applications. (If you haven’t applied yet—or if you know someone who should be thinking about it—don’t hesitate to send them my way!) I know that when I first sit down with the fellows I’ll have a moment where I feel out of my element—old, even—but I can’t wait to see how they write, struggle, and experience it all. These writers will bring a new perspective to our shared world.