Jennifer Openshaw: Amanda Gorman's example – young poet can inspire others to fulfill their potential

Her powerful inauguration poem, "The Hill We Climb," earned her many accolades

In a matter of days, Amanda Gorman has become known to millions of Americans.

If the name escapes you, Gorman became the youngest poet, and only the sixth in history, to read at a presidential inauguration. Her powerful poem, "The Hill We Climb," earned her many accolades, comparing her to some of America’s greatest poets, such as Maya Angelou.

And while this young woman of color seemed to spring out of nowhere, she was actually the first National Youth Poet Laureate at 17. Ever since she was a child, she worked to perfect her poetry and overcome her speech impediments, mastering her craft through practice, time and diligence.

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So with this as a start to her career at the age of 22, one can imagine Amanda Gorman, like Maya Lin designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at 21, destined for great achievements in the years to come.

Isn’t that what we hope for every young person in America? 

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Isn’t that what, deep down, we all want for ourselves and our children?

We all carry within us a yearning to fulfill our potential. I’ve heard countless workforce leaders and teachers say how they wished they’d received real training to guide their futures. Much of this training happens on the job, but what if it could start years ahead? What if it could start at 14, 13 or even 12 years old?

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Today, with the power of technology and with all the strengths and freedoms America affords us, the chance to equip and empower our youth to lead from the top is within our reach. And now, amid global competitiveness, it has become an imperative.

In our recent report – "What’s Inside the Minds of GenZ during COVID?" – we found some surprising shifts. While we always knew GenZ was purpose-minded, over half (52%) of GenZ men and women say they want to be an entrepreneur, up from 46% in 2019. And, a whopping 64% see themselves as leaders in corporate America.

Why does this generation’s drive to lead from the top differ from others?

Well, for one, this generation wants a seat at the table. Whether it’s ensuring LGBTQ peers are treated fairly or having meaningful dialogue with business leaders. 

"We want our voices to be heard," said Anika Mistry, 17, CEO of DevMind VR, which addresses developmental disabilities.

GenZ is thirsting to have a?real?say in solving the problems of our world.

GenZ is thirsting to have a real say in solving the problems of our world. "My generation grew up only knowing 9/11 and climate change," says 17-year-old Kristen St. Louis, a student at The Ethel Walker School and CEO of Mirror Me Diversity. "We have no choice but to solve these problems."

This generation is motivated to drive innovation. When asked how they want to make an impact on the world, nearly two-thirds said they want to create something original. This is driven by their desires to tackle issues like racism and climate change – both sources of growing worries – coupled with having digital tools at their fingertips to advance this innovation. A full one-third of women say that starting a business would boost their confidence.

Connecticut student Jody Bell, now 18 and in college, combined her passion for policy with entrepreneurship training to create her venture, In Case of Deportation. At just 16, Jody’s venture garnered national headlines and led to a full-ride college scholarship – relieving the financial burden on her mother.

Jody says, "I can guarantee you that there are other high schoolers equally as driven, and if we give them the skills, they will become the future leaders we need right now."

Amanda Gorman is a poet, but she is also an entrepreneur. She uses poetry to fuel her creative spirit and to address systemic racism head-on. Like many GenZers, she’s working to make the world a better place for the next generation.

Leaders across the country are trying to figure out how to train Americans – our young people especially – for the post-COVID economy. GenZ could be the first generation to drive change and demand more people know how to run a business.

Teaching techniques of the past are not designed to prepare our young people to innovate and succeed today, let alone tomorrow. But that’s changing.

In fact, even during COVID, we’ve seen thousands of young people – as young as 14 – start their own businesses by harnessing their passions, right from the bedroom. 

Like Amanda and her passion for poetry, America’s youth is yearning to drive innovation and positive change – whether during or after school. 

It’s when we start from their passion or point of strength that we’re able to make a digitally delivered educational experience not only relevant, but truly impactful, even during these unprecedented times.

While the pandemic has had a detrimental impact on GenZers, it has also lit a fire within them, inspiring them to think outside the box.

"I didn’t necessarily get laid off," said 18-year-old Zachary White, a student from Orange County, Calif., who worked at a fast-food restaurant, "but I got zero hours because of the pandemic."

Zach said he was "desperate to find something to do." When he heard about an online business training program through the Orange County Workforce Development Board that he could do from home, he thought "it was too good to be true."

Ten weeks later, Zach and his classmates had a business plan in hand – along with renewed confidence and a host of skills.

In fact, of the 4,000 students who’ve undergone this training, 85% report improved leadership confidence, 91% improved public speaking and 93% feel more college-ready.

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Through the process of creating a real business, they learn hard skills while acquiring professional skills that employers are demanding. Armed with these skills and a tangible venture plan in hand, they’re able to set themselves apart for the college admissions process and showcase to prospective employers their leadership capabilities.

With new energy and hope in the air, it’s time we harness America’s entrepreneurial capabilities, the drive and the passion of today’s youth. Let us help every Amanda Gorman to climb their own hills, and actualize their dreams.

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