Tristan Niskanen: Bring young people into the fold at Aspen Ideas |

Tristan Niskanen: Bring young people into the fold at Aspen Ideas

Tristan Niskanen
Guest Commentary

The Aspen Ideas Festival should be more inclusive of young people. Their attempt to integrate “the next generation” into the festival was well-intended but poorly executed. For 10 days the Aspen Ideas Festival brought together experts and the brightest minds in many fields to speak on issues in the attempt to create discussions that will lead to positive change. The festival is an inspiring retreat that feeds your intellectual hunger. For a passionate college student like myself, I wanted to be involved, but I found it harder than I imagined.

Although the Aspen Ideas Festival goes into depth about topics concerning millennials and my fellow Generation Z peers, it doesn’t include our voice. On Thursday morning I went to David Rothkopf’s talk called “The Great Questions of Tomorrow.” My question: Where are young people at these talks? The great questions of tomorrow will be answered and dealt with mostly by us, the next generation. It’s great that we’re having this discussion. Let’s open it up more, and I have a feeling we may just see even more positive change.

The Aspen Ideas Festival is a luxury and a privilege. The cost of attendance may be worth it, but it’s out of most people’s price range. I was able to attend some events through two opportunities. As a volunteer golf cart driver, I spent half the day shuttling attendees back and forth across the Aspen Institute/Meadows campus and the other half of the day attending as many events as I could. I fortunately bought one of the rare “Millennial Passes,” which granted access to a limited list of events on days I didn’t work.

On one of the last days of the festival I went to the Young Adult Forum. For over four hours the Aspen Institute Youth & Engagement Programs tried to squeeze in a dumbed-down Ideas Festival into one night. The event was tailored to a “younger than 25 years old” audience. I appreciate that the Aspen Ideas Festival attempted to include youth into the festival, but the age range was too large to be effective.

During the forum we heard poetry from Chicago poet Harold Green, comedy from former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, a Constitution talk from former solicitor general Neal Katyal and other talks targeted at inspiring the youth. Manoush Zomorodi gave a presentation on the power of boredom and the benefit of using your phone less. Rajiv Vinnakota, the executive vice president of Youth & Engagement Programs, encouraged everyone to say “This is about me, for me.”

It’s easy to be a critic and point out the faults of the festival. I don’t expect the Aspen Institute to be perfect, but I would like to see them make some changes. The change will come with the future, and we, the young people are the future. Let’s work together to save this world. Leaving the youth out of the picture is not an option. I know it’s hard to engage a young audience with a short attention span and less maturity, but I know it’s possible to connect.

I think the Young Adult Forum is a step in the right direction toward creating a festival that is more inclusive of a younger audience. My suggestion would be to have a forum with high schoolers and one with college-age students. Creating a better, more critical format for each age group will result in more productive and profound conversation. I think the Aspen Ideas Festival can foster this change and be more inclusive. But it’s just an idea.

Tristan Niskanen is an Aspen resident and is a member of Aspen High School’s class of 2016. He is a contributor to The Aspen Times this summer and will attend Colgate University this fall.

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