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A lot of people talk about how kids are “the future” and that the fate of the world will rest in their shoulders in a couple of years. But why should young people have to wait a decade or two to start making things happen? Why not start that cycle now? As promised in December, we have compiled a list of incredible individuals, all 20 years of age or younger, who are changing the world and making the most of their lives, even if they’ve only been on this planet for two decades or less.

What was the criteria for picking out these people, you ask? As we mentioned in our call for nominations last month, there were a few key things:

  • All people mentioned are 20 years old or younger (we also gave a little leeway to people who turned 21 within the last 5-6 months or so).
  • We specifically looked for people who had not yet been rewarded by tons of mainstream media outlets for what they’re doing. Basically, we wanted to find new rising stars!
  • We looked for people who’ve been doing what they’ve been doing for a while. It’s hard to start an enterprise; it’s even harder to keep it going for months and years to come.

So, who are these amazing young people? Keep reading to find out (and note that the list is in no particular order)!

Mandy J. Engelman, The Digital Media Influencer

Mandy J. Engelman is only 17 years old and already making waves in the world of digital media: She’s done creative work and consulting for Seventeen, MTV, and other gigantic brands, and she’s also become a big voice in the world of conservative lifestyle blogging through her website, The Quirky Conservative.

Justin Lafazan, The Wantrepreneur

A nominator had this to say about Justin: “After his acceptance to Wharton, Justin deferred his admission to pursue entrepreneurship. At 18, he is the founder and CEO of two multinational consulting firms (S4S College Advisory and Millennial Marketing Strategy), a TEDx speaker, a valued consultant, a forthcoming author, and an ambitious entrepreneur. Justin’s companies only employee college students, yet he is able to procure contracts with families, small businesses, and major financial services firms by leveraging the power of his age and experience.” We think that kind of says it all. You can also find Justin hitting up Twitter pretty hard.

Sophie Houser and Andrea Gonzales, The Runners

Okay, so confession time: Between the time these two ladies were nominated for this award and our anniversary in February, the press for them blew up (they’ve been featured on sites like BuzzFeed, Fast Company, and so many more), but they’re too awesome not to feature. Sophie Houser and Andrea Gonzales created the smash hit computer game Tampon Run, which is now also available as an iOS app.

Kritika Singh, The Malaria Ender

Kritika Singh was only 16 when she founded Malaria Free World in August 2014. Malaria Free World is a non-profit organization aimed to raise awareness about the malaria epidemic and current malaria research efforts. The org has teamed up with global organizations like Harvard University’s Defeating Malaria Initiative and UN’s Nothing But Nets. It aims to save lives by partnering in global efforts to help people suffering from malaria or at risk of getting it. As her nominator wrote in, “’Together, we can end malaria. Worldwide!’” is not just Malaria Free World’s tagline; it is a message that Kritika truly subscribes to and promotes publicly.”

Nathan Zed, The YouTuber

Nathan Zed is a 17-year-old YouTuber who is so much more than the new norm of popular Viners and YouTubers (known mostly for their looks, crude jokes, and/or meaningless commentary). His videos, posted on his channel TheThirdPew, are thought-provoking, funny, and do not underestimate the intelligence of his young audience (probably because he is one of them!). He’s been a major part of conversations considering sexual abuse on YouTube, racist/problematic statements of other creators, and the wider discussion of race in our culture.

Lauren and Victoria Coaxum, The Cyberbullying Stoppers

These two sisters started a non-profit called Think Before You Type that’s focused on stopping cyberbullying as well as promoting positive self-esteem and responsible internet use for young people. Their efforts have included interviews with influential people, speaking engagements, and blog posts. They are tirelessly pushing forward to take this important message to those who need it, and that has been the driving force behind their efforts.

Aditya and Nitish Sood, The Homelessness Fighters

These two founded Working Together For Change, an Atlanta-based, student-run organization that fights homelessness and enables other young people to do the same. The organization has also been expanding outward and now has three different chapters, consisting of other young people fighting to end homelessness.

Zach Latta, The Programmer

An avid programmer, Zach Latta founded hackEDU, an organization that empowers high school students to build totally rad things through creating and growing student-run coding clubs at high schools nationwide. So far, hackEDU has put down roots at over 20 high schools at every corner of the country, and its students have built some awesome things.

Alton Wang, The Activist

Alton Wang, a now-junior at Wesleyan University, was floored by how there was virtually no academic opportunities at his college for Asian American studies, and he decided to do something about it. Alton co-created a student-led course covering Asian American academia, in addition to creating his own blog about Asian American issues in the hopes of raising awareness and visibility of these topics. Even cooler: Alton was recently profiled for his activism by NBC News.

Kylie Kuhns, The Cancer Crusader

When her sister, Kelsey, was diagnosed with leukemia, Kylie Kuhns donated bone marrow to help treat her sister. Unfortunately, Kelsey lost her battle when she was only 12 years old. To keep her sister’s memory alive, Kylie founded Kelsey’s Dream in 2007, an organization with the mission to serve children in need, especially those battling cancer. Kylie has started numerous programs with Kelsey’s Dream, including the creation of a therapy toy, Hopper the Cancer Crusher. Hopper is a plush, soft character to ensure comfort during children’s medical procedures that Kylie has been developing over the past 2.5 years. This not only serves as a similar companion to children, but Hopper also acts as a liaison between doctors, parents, and children. Hopper also provides an age-appropriate explanation to siblings or friends of patients to better understand treatments.

Ahneesh Mohanty, The Educator

Ahneesh Mohanty, a high school senior from Plano, Texas, started his education-focused non-profit, The Outreach Movement, when he was a sophomore in high school. He and his fellow classmates wanted to help underprivileged students in nearby Dallas but were fed up with other tutoring programs because they required either the tutor or the pupil to meet in person (often a long drive for one of the two). They envisioned a more personalized Khan Academy-style experience for tutors and students to make the whole process more engaged and convenient, and The Outreach Movement was born.

Julia Warren, The Party Planner

Julia founded Celebrate! RVA, a non-profit dedicated to celebrating the birthdays of underprivileged children, when she was a junior in high school. She chose to attend college close to home in order to continue as the Executive Director and has balanced school, work, and another internship with an event planning and design company.

Jake Asman, The Next Big Broadcaster

Asman is an Ithaca College student who currently hosts and produces his own sports podcast on iTunes with his co-host, Dan Budick. The podcast features interviews with some of the biggest names in the sports world and the latest discussions on all things New York-centric. Asman also broadcasts sports on Ithaca College’s WICB and ICTV. Oh, and he has a rockstar Twitter account.

Sharan Subramanian, The Chess Master

An incredibly experienced chess player, Sharan Subramanian created the organization Invest in Chess. The aim is not only to spread, teach, and promote chess, but also to raise awareness of its many practical and educational benefits. He has also gained support from and interviewed several internationally renowned chess players. One of the major initiatives Sharan undertook was co-hosting the Cleveland Scholastic Open, Northeast Ohio’s premier scholastic chess tournament. In addition, through Invest in Chess and in partnership with the University of Chicago Chess Club, Sharan and several chess enthusiasts are teaching chess for free at a low-income school in Chicago.

Katie Curran, The Forward Thinker

At age 15, Katie Curran founded Project Next Generation, a civics and leadership educational organization for the rising generation of student leaders. Katie is passionate about revitalizing civics education for youth. She mentors middle school students through this unique program, which is completely tuition-free for all students. Under the umbrella of her organization, she created the Middle School World Peace and Leadership Program, where students take on roles of diplomats representing countries from around the world. Many of the young students have never traveled outside of their communities before, so Katie brings a global classroom right to local kids. Students learn about the United Nations, study other languages, hold debates, and practice public speaking at the workshops.

Gabe Rosenberg, The Journalist

Armed with an awesome Twitter account and a diverse number of clips, Gabe Rosenberg is making waves in the world of journalism and is rising to the top incredibly quickly. In addition to doing freelance work for impressive publications like Consequence of Sound and Contently, Gabe also serves as current Editor-in-Chief of The Wesleyan Argus.

Andy Nguyen, The Filmmaker

Andy Nguyen incorporated service learning with his own personal talents to create a film for the Widener Memorial School, a Philadelphia public school that exclusively serves children with disabilities. He also does a ton of other work in the world of video production and creative content.



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