Eleven years ago, I had the privilege of attending the Aspen Ideas Festival as a Bezos Scholar. I was a rising senior in high school, ready and eager to make an impact on the world. Unbeknownst to me, my time in Aspen would shape me, would introduce me to global leaders such as Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female supreme court justice, and would give me the confidence to lead my own initiative on education for women in Afghanistan in my hometown of Wichita, Kansas.
This past summer, I returned to Aspen, still ready and eager to make an impact on the world, but this time as a professional seeking to focus my impact. Representing the Bezos Scholars at the 2019 Resnick Aspen Action Forum afforded me the opportunity to do just that.
The Resnick Aspen Action Forum unites over 350 leaders from more than 30 countries through workshops, dialogues, and art, to invigorate and inspire participants from ideas to action. As an attendee, I dove headfirst into intellectually stimulating and incredibly deep conversations with entrepreneurs, humanitarians, and educators, who were all, like me, striving to meaningfully contribute to society while at the same time working to grow professionally, intellectually, and personally.
The catalyst for many of our conversations was the 2019 theme: Borders: Within and Around Us. In small seminar groups, we explored various forms of borders that alter us as individuals and as a society, be it internal borders, political borders, or physical borders. While the seminars illuminated the complex issues borders can raise, they also shed light on the multifaceted and unique take my peers were implementing in their daily lives to eliminate arbitrary borders. For example, in one seminar, we listened, advised, and consulted, as a forum attendee pitched an app-based voting platform that had the potential to power secure, replicable, and auditable elections on a global scale. In another, we heard concerns of a Nicaraguan resident as she contemplated the safest option for her and her family in the midst of the worsening crisis.
One unique aspect of the Resnick Aspen Action Forum is that a Youth Forum takes place simultaneously, and on many occasions crosses paths with the adult Forum. I had the humbling experience of participating in a four-person panel, where we discussed the meaning of leadership at different points in life with the Youth Forum attendees. My fellow panelists included Jordan Kassalow, Founder of Vision Spring, an organization that provides affordable eyeglasses to individuals across the globe, Anousheh Ansari, the first female private space explorer, and Diego Xavier, a high school student in San Salvador. As a panel, we discussed everything from Diego’s experience leading his soccer team to victory, to Jordan discovering his passion for entrepreneurship, to my nervous excitement about launching an Ideas Festival in Wichita, Kansas as a 17-year-old.
These continuing opportunities through the Scholars Program, even for alumni, are an important evolution and strengthening of the youth leadership tools we gain as students in the program. At the Resnick Aspen Action Forum, I was able to meet and reconnect with other Bezos Scholar alumni, Ann Stalcup and Luke Niforados, learn about their work, and build friendship and support within our BSP community. The Forum provided me with an ideal canvas to not only reflect on my early experiences with leadership as a Bezos Scholar, but also consider how over ten years later, I still strive to positively impact the world, especially given my plans to apply to law school this fall, with the long-term goal of utilizing the judicial system to fight for social justice. The Forum has fostered not only a reinvigorated sense of purpose, but most importantly, a new network of peers, colleagues, and mentors that I am confident will empower me in my future endeavors.