Finding inspiration as a teenager at Aspen Ideas Festival |

Finding inspiration as a teenager at Aspen Ideas Festival

Hayley Heinecken
The Aspen Times

Editor’s note: Hayley Heinecken is an Aspen High School sophomore who went to the Ideas Festival to get a young-person’s perspective.

Hundreds of young adults from across the world nervously settled into their seats Wednesday at the Young Adult Forum at Aspen Ideas Festival. Many of the brightest minds of our generation were there with every trait imaginable: gay, straight, black, white, shy, loud and everywhere in between.

I was one of them, a high school student with too many ideas and a knack for winning debates. As Rajiv Vinnakota, the vice president of the youth and engagement program at the Aspen Institute, introduced himself, he delivered a line that I will never forget: “Why aren’t you in the room when we are talking about issues that impact you the most?”

I racked my brain for an answer but came up empty. Why am I in a classroom memorizing equations while 60-year-old senators are debating for the rights of my generation and future? I wouldn’t trade high school or any of my experiences for anything, but his simple question fed the fire in me, as I’m sure it did others.

The night continued on similarly, and soon Manoush Zomorodi, creator of podcast Note to Self, was invited up.

She spoke passionately about how my generation’s dependence on phones is making it exponentially harder for us to come up with ideas. Essentially, the human brain thinks its most brilliant thoughts while it’s bored, and whenever we’re bored, we turn to our iPhone or computer or iPad or whatever else for entertainment, unknowingly robbing our brain of it’s best ideas.

Zomorodi’s take on convincing everyone in the room to be bored once in a while worked, at least for me. To learn more about Zomorodi’s mission, look up her book and podcast challenge, “Bored & Brilliant.”

Another memorable speaker was Shabana Basij-Rasikh, the founder of the first Afghan girls’ boarding school, SOLA. Besides founding SOLA (School Of Leadership, Afghanistan), she founded HELA, an organization that helps to empower women in Afghanistan through educating them.

As she spoke of all she’d done for women and education around the world, I was inspired and wanted to follow in her footsteps and help as many people as I could.

Their presentations were just the highlight of my night, but there were so many more worth mentioning, including spotlighting issues such as stereotyping, climate change and even discussing the Constitution. The presenters behind these amazing discussions included Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Harold Green and Neal Katyal.

As the evening drew to a close, it was clear that every person in the room would remember the night far into the future. We all said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Who knows? Maybe we’ll see each other in a few years, after we’ve become the future and, hopefully, changed the world for the better.

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