If there is one thing that I notice is lacking within the community, it is the diversity of perspectives. At every meeting, every event, and every gathering, I definitely have noticed that there is one voice almost always missing—a student’s.
I’m an intern for the Southeast Asian Education Coalition (SEAeD) working on the All Students Count Act and House Bill 1541 for the State of Washington on closing the educational opportunity gap. Very recently, I have gone to countless meetings, legislative hearings, and large community events. About 95 percent of the time, I am the youngest one in the room. When I introduce myself to others, people are shocked whenever I mention one small detail—I am still in high school. The words “I’m a high school student” prompts a large congratulations. As flattering as it is to receive praise, I always wonder why being a student is such a surprise. All of the solutions I advocate for benefit K-12 students, but the people around me are definitely not K-12 and I think we need to shift and change these roles and center students.
On April 1, I attended a press conference that touched base with what our state legislators are doing to better address the educational opportunity gap for every student in Washington State. The room was full of parents, teachers, former state representatives, and community activists. Toward the end of the press conference, they opened up the floor for a Q&A. I raised my hand for a good 20 minutes before slowly giving up on asking my question; I felt really intimidated. Once colleagues around me realised that I was giving up, they made sure to point me out and make sure that I was heard. People in the community want to hear from students because they experience things first-hand. Others advocating for students ultimately want to do what is best for them, so hearing what students want and need is something they love to do.
Becoming an advocate has had so many benefits. I can say that I have really enjoyed my position as an intern. I have gotten to meet some incredibly inspiring leaders, planned successful events, got my name out there, and made really good friends. It may sound intimidating, but it is not too bad once you realise how big of an impact you are making by stepping out of your comfort zone.
We need more young voices from the community to speak and be part of the conversations happening about us. You do not necessarily need a title to do the things that I am doing. You can do small things such as attend community events, go to school board meetings, meet new people, grow your network, and keep an open mind. I can honestly say that I have enjoyed doing all of this work and I plan to continue doing it.