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It's your turn to change the world! This teen teaches students everywhere how to make a *real* difference in their communities

The stretch leading up to the holiday szn is always the perf time to take stock—of the things you appreciate, but also of the things you might want to change (for yourself and for the wider world!) in the coming year.

What parts of life are you most grateful for? Maybe you're imagining quality time with your fam or a delish spread of food on the dinner table. And what parts of life do you want to totally transform in the new year? Think: standing up for the social justice causes you believe in.

If Lillian Hertel is passionate about one thing, it's supporting young people who want to shake up the status quo. At just age 17, Lillian founded her own international coalition, Students Stand Up, to uplift young people who want to make real change through grassroots organizing. This means Lillian and her org. are developing and sharing resources (in the form of a top-notch virtual training program) to kickstart activism at the local level—aka starting small, like with your classroom, your school or your town.

Whether you're passionate about reproductive rights for women or visibility for the LGBTQ+ community or something else entirely, Students Stand Up and Lillian are here to reveal the tricks of the trade. Look no further for the ultimate how-to for making your activism sustainable, energizing and meaningful. 

1. Practice optimistic realism 

Got your heart set on becoming an effective organizer? Lillian says you've got to keep one very important idea in mind: optimistic realism.

To her, this means balancing the part of your brain that highkey loves to dream big with the voice in your head that keeps you honest and makes you think, What can I really do on-the-ground, right now, to make a difference?  Students Stand Up is keen on breaking up fuzzy, far-off goals into achievable, bite-size pieces.

"The most common thing I see, reading through applications and talking with students is they have very big hopes, and they're looking for the most logical ways to approach them," she says. "They say something like 'I want to end climate change' but what they really need is concrete steps to do that, because, obviously, that's very optimistic."

Don't get it twisted: Lillian agrees that ambition is an amaze (and suuuper necessary) tool for leaders to have in their back pocket. But it's crucial to match those high hopes with a sense of realism if you want to start putting your ideas into action, pronto. 

2. Find a role model to keep you inspired

Lillian stays motivated in her work by taking note of girls and women who were accomplished leaders in the world of activism—and letting their stories remind her that making a major impact is, in fact, possible. 

"Starting out in advocacy, I definitely looked to leaders of specific movements, like the leaders of the March for Our Lives movement or like Greta Thunberg, especially when I started getting involved with climate justice advocacy," she remembers. 

Lillian has also drawn inspo from fellow activists she connects with irl. Education reform advocate Zoë Jenkins, who Lillian met while working with an organization called Civics Unplugged, is someone Lillian deeply admires—and wants to emulate in her own work. "Zoë is very passionate, very driven," she gushes. "She's never conceited, but if there's anything she wants to do, she'll do it and she'll be the best at it." Women supporting women, we love to see it!

Allowing others to motivate you can be a super useful strat for learning about different approaches to activism (maybe you cross paths with a public speaking whiz or a designer extraordinare who's a pro at making informative IG graphics). Working closely with equally enthusiastic people can keep you accountable in your mission—even when the going gets tough. 

3. Start small (and visible)

Lillian herself says it best: "Being able to see in-person and firsthand the change that you're making is so impactful and motivating." Translation: If you can see changes, even tiny changes, *actually* happening, you're more likely to stick to your activism.

According to Lillian, one of the best ways to do this is by researching local initiatives rather than volunteering for huge international orgs. "Let's say your interested in climate justice," she says. "Making sure that waste management with recycling and compost at your school is good or suggesting green energy sources or planting trees, all of that stuff is going to make a really big, real-life impact." Looks like 2024 is about to ~officiallly~ be the year of getting involved in your very own neighborhood!

Check out Lillian's work and get involved in Students Stand Up here

Plus, if you're already giving back to your community in a unique way,
learn more about becoming a Prudential Emerging Visionary like Lillian.

Read up on these real-life girls who are already changing the world:
⭐ This teen entrepreneur started her own business—now she's sharing her best go-getter advice
⭐ One girl designed her own mentoring app for foster youth and is making a *major* impact
⭐ Teen activist Zoya Haq is making *big* changes to what she's learning in school...and you can too!


by Madelon Basil | 11/27/2023