2016 was quite a surreal year in many ways, filled with depressing world events, one too many mass shootings, multiple celebrity deaths, record-hot temperatures, bizarre international political scandals and a very ugly presidential election that’s left the country divided rather than united.
There’s a lot of inspirational students out there who are overcoming obstacles and making their voices heard.
Don’t believe me? Check out our top 16 student voice pieces from the year, featuring first-generation college students who beat the odds, budding activists fighting for global change and all-in-all just some awesome kids who can teach us adults a thing or two.
1. WATCH: Here’s Why We Should Really Listen to Student Voices by Matthew Fulle
The goal of our schools is to educate students, so why don’t they have a say in how they’re educated? In fact, many think students aren’t serious enough to have input. This video highlights why student voice matters, why adults should listen and how student input can make serious waves.
Kim used to run with “a bad crowd.” But her life changed radically when she entered Perspectives Charter School in Chicago. Here’s the incredible story of how the school opened up Kim’s heart by teaching her to take responsibility for herself and giving her a path to a brighter future.
3. If Borders Didn’t Stop Us, Nothing Else Can by Citlali Perez
In November, hundreds of Chicago students gathered at a rally to support the community after the election. Among them was Citlali, who gave a speech on her experience being an undocumented immigrant and how we can work together and stand up to hate by fighting for what we believe in.
4. I Thought People Like Me Didn’t Go to Ivy League Schools. I Proved Myself Wrong. by Carolina Cantu
Already a high-achieving student, Carolina was “fine getting by good grades.” It wasn’t until she went to IDEA Public Schools that she saw herself in a college classroom. Carolina talks about how the school prepared her for life after high school and defied her assumptions on what she could accomplish.
5. Here’s 4 Reasons Why Saying ‘You’re Lucky’ to First-Generation College Students Is a Problem by Guillermo Camarillo
Throughout high school and now in college, as a first-generation student at Stanford, Guillermo’s been told he’s “lucky.” In this post, the Chicago native pushes back against that notion, saying low-income and minority students should be recognized not as lucky but rather honored, as “warriors, survivors and individuals with amazing stories.”
6. I Wasn’t Getting Deported, I Was Going to College by Manuel Cardoza
Growing up, Manny was headed down the wrong path. But when his oldest cousin got deported, it was a wake-up call for Manny to turn his life around.
7. I May Only Be in Sixth Grade But I Know Peace Starts With My Own Two Feet by Katherine Garcia
They say wisdom comes with age, but we can learn something from Katherine, like “We only live once and we have to enjoy our life with peace.” The sixth-grader reflects on World Peace Day and how communities can come together to spread a message of peace instead of war.
Cristina wrote a speech about the pipeline’s environmental effects, telling leaders, “understand how this action could endanger many lives and think twice before they act.”
Remember what it was like to start school for the first time ever? First-grader Logan (and his mom Amy) were there to remind us, when they sat down with Mike Vaughn in September to talk homework, good teachers and why cereal is great to eat before a day of learning.
10. One Fight Almost Ruined My Chances of Going to College by Rikiyah Lewis
In her personal statement for college applications, Chicago high schooler Rikiyah reflects on the many lessons she learned after she was kicked out of her charter school for fighting. Having nowhere else to go but her neighborhood school, the experience taught Rikiyah about negativity, independence and learning from one’s mistakes.
11. I Hated High School, But I Did Learn These 5 Things by Kim De Guzman (yours truly)
Let’s face it, high school wasn’t the best of times for everybody, especially for me. But while those four years aren’t something I like to remember fondly, I reflected on the good things I learned at my magnet school and how it shaped me into the person I am today.
12. Here’s What Not to Do During Your Freshman Year of College by Jabari Walters
Transitioning from high school to college isn’t easy. Louisiana State University student Jabari reflects on his first year of higher education and offers college-bound students some tips for navigating their freshman year. Gems include “The Freshman 15 is not a myth” and “You need to think and act for yourself.”
13. Newark Is Full of Kids With Potential But Our Schools Must Make It Happen by Justin Oglesby
“Not enough kids from cities like mine, Newark, go to college,” says Justin. But an even bigger problem is that fewer young people finish college. The Johnson and Wales graduate reflects on the importance of mentoring and supporting high school students so they all have a path to college graduation.
14. When ‘Special’ Feels Like an Insult: Diary of an IEP Kid by A.J. Spitz
A.J.’s struggled with learning disabilities his whole life, particularly the label that comes with it: “special.” In this post, the Drake University student digs up old poems he wrote about the insult of being “special” and how it affected his time at school and his interactions with teachers.
Students face a huge amount of pressure these days, and sometimes it can feel like any mistake (even small ones) can jeopardize their future. That’s why high school sophomore Rachel says all schools should make mistake-making part of the learning process, so students can embrace and better learn from them.
16. My Teachers Didn’t Believe I Could Read, But My Mom Found a School That Did by TateAnna Gravely-Moss
At just 3-years-old, TateAnna was an excellent reader. But her teachers didn’t see it that way, even going so far as to not let her read in class. TateAnna’s mom saw her potential and took matters into her own hands by enrolling her in a local Kansas City charter school.