Warrior Words: Most likely to change the world

Hidden in a box beneath my fifth grade Swiss Country Report, glitter-bathed portraits of my past selves, and torn corners of age-old tests and quizzes, lies my kindergarten yearbook. The laminated, ribbon-bound pages hold memories of the faces I have known and the Maritime Aquarium jellies I have jiggled. As I dig up this treasure and reminisce, taking in each page with a new appreciation, I am struck by the one entitled “Where will we be in 20 years?” As a five-year-old, my future plans included being “The President, but one who also writes books, bakes cupcakes, and plays dress up.” I was not alone; my classmates projected equally ambitious professions. From “cancer doctor” to “gardener on Mars,” each held a similar sentiment — we wanted to change the world.

But the desire to do and be anything seemed to wane with the quantity of princess lunch boxes and light-up sneakers. When we’re young, our world seems conquerable and teeming with possibilities. But then we get older, becoming disillusioned with every consecutive reality check, and oftentimes lose the desire to follow these far-fetched dreams. After all, we’re one person, we’re not that special, and we should leave all the ground-breaking, world-altering actions to someone much older and wiser — right? Our teachers, coaches, instructors and parents instill a practicality that, arguably, will prepare us for success in the “real world.” Unfortunately, this mindset can also stifle the wishful thinking of a five-year-old’s imagination, and a teenager's bold aspirations can be sidelined by the quadratic formula and college acceptance rates.

In the moment, this pragmatism makes us feel young and powerless. I can’t be the President, constitutionally, for at least another 18 years. The wait feels painfully long, especially for me, a kid who has always been desperate to grow up and become part of the important decisions life presents. And soon, as only a 17-year-old on Election Day can, I’ll feel the most young and powerless I ever have. This year, midterm elections offer me only a day without classes, when I can do nothing but scorn the year 2001 boldly emblazoned on my ID.

But as the saying goes, “Age is just a number.” I’ll have to sit this election out, but I know I will feel even more impassioned to cast my first ballot when the clock strikes midnight on March 8 of 2019. It isn’t the first time I’m not old enough, and it certainly won’t be the last. Often, the terms young and powerless are wrongly associated. I’m young, but I’m not powerless. I’m not powerless because my inability to vote doesn’t preclude my ability to knock on doors and canvass for local politicians. I’m not powerless because my lack of “real world” experience doesn’t make my informed opinion any less valid. I’m not powerless because I’ve held onto a kindergartener’s dreams, no matter how many times the world says “you can’t.” My peers and I are young, each with different shades of naivete. However, I refuse to believe we are powerless.

Models like Will Haskell, a fresh-faced 22-year-old running for state senate, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who began a national movement demanding legislative action against gun violence, and Malala Yousafzai who survived an attempted assassination by the Taliban and now champions women’s education, demonstrate this strength. No matter the age, voices and votes and opinions and dreams spark movements and momentous occasions that will fill the history textbooks of the next generation of kids who feel “too young.” So, embrace your inner five-year-old, go out, and change the world. Just remember to be home by 11.

Maddie Burke is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with five classmates.