Claire Chi Blurring the Lines Between Youth and Adult Leaders at TEDxPSU


Claire Lewis

State High junior, Claire Chi giving her TED talk on Youth Leadership at the 2023 TEDxPSU conference. Photo taken on Feb.11, 2023, by Claire Lewis.

Lisa Wang, News Editor

On Feb. 12, 2023, TEDxPSU held their Blurring the Line TED conference, which consisted of 10 speakers, and 10 different ways forms of blurring the lines current society holds.

The topics ranged from rewriting the definition of homeless to giving inmates a way to share their stories. Of the diverse topics and speakers, State High junior Claire Chi was one of the 10 speakers. 

Chi was ecstatic when she heard she was speaking at the Blurring the Line TED conference. 

“I was really excited because giving a TED talk is one of my biggest life goals. To have been able to have been provided this opportunity to share my ideas and the work that I have been doing in the community was really special,” Chi exclaimed. 

Within her TED talk, she shared with the audience her experiences with teaching youth to be leaders and changemakers and her non-profit, student-run organization, Dancing Against Hunger (DAH). DAH currently providing thousands of students and families with food security. 

“A lot of that [adults looking down on youth leaders] comes from these mentors who can share strategies for successful change,” Chi stated. “In my talk, I highlighted different ways of creating sustainable impact, one being that my non-profit Dancing Against Hunger provides leadership opportunities for students, and we have adult mentors on our board, serving as advisors to us as young leaders. That’s definitely something that is really important for my topic, and the impact of youth advocacy.” 

Chi is currently serving on the Pennsylvania Association of Student Councils Executive Board and co-directing the Students for Education in Pennsylvania program. Chi has had many meaningful life experiences that helped her with the TED talk, and inspired the talk. 

“I’ve done a lot of larger group public speaking. Just this school year when I went to a leadership conference and I gave a speech to over 700 students and adults on the impact leadership has had in my life and other organizations.,” Chi explained. “We [often] ask each other, ‘oh, if you could give a TED talk, what would you give it on?’ and I think [there are] so many incredible ideas out there that could potentially contribute greatly meaningfully [things] to our society and individual lives. But I think it’s very different to share those ideas with life experiences.”

The overall experience for Chi was positive. Not only did Chi enjoy giving the TED talk, but the post-conference also sparked a special feeling for her. 

“I was the only high school student speaking at this event, and it was really cool to me how at the event, after the conference, people would come up to me and ask, ‘so how did you get your community initiative off the ground?’ or  maybe ‘I have my own organization, I’m struggling with this, did you face this, and how did you overcome it?’ [It was] overall related to my interests and my work in the community,” Chi explained. 

“It was really special to me to be able to have that voice and share advice with the audience. It was also a really valuable opportunity for me to see that adults were valuing my ideas and what I had to say. It also shares the message that youth have so many impactful perspectives that can really contribute to the change-making process,” she added. 

Students that attended the event were more than impressed with the entire experience. Sophomore Theresa Johnson-Pritchett listened to all the talks.

“It showed a lot of different sides of the community in State College. I definitely learned a lot of lessons. I’m really glad I went. All the speakers seemed to be really knowledgeable and they talked about a lot [of] issues that I think are really important and should definitely be brought up in our community,” Johnson-Pritchett explained.

Although only making it for the last few TED talks, sophomore Claire Fox echoed the same sentiment.

“It was a really great experience. It’s so crazy to see someone that you know personally doing something so impactful at such a young age, and it makes you feel like there are a lot more opportunities for yourself,” Fox exclaimed.

Chi’s TED talk had an inspirational impact on the high school students in the room.

“I learned a lot about how someone my age can accomplish in terms of communicating with the people in charge of our district and being able to have a lot of leadership and be a role model for other people your age,” Johnson-Pritchett stated. “ It’s sort of easy to feel like, ‘oh I’m just another student. There’s nothing I can do, but she sort of showed an example of a way where you can really make a large impact in your community, even if you’re just a student in high school.”

“It re-emphasized important points that I’ve been partially aware of.  A lot of the things she talked about were the effects of being a young leader and the impacts of being a young leader,” Fox said. “I feel like I have a pretty good experience of that on my own, and I’ve experienced a lot the things she talked about in her TED talk– not to the same extent that she had, and I haven’t had the same impact as she has, but all the things she said, I feel like is really true and it’s just so obvious when talking to adults that they just don’t see that and the importance of younger generations in decision making.”

Change is not easy to make, especially as youth advocates. Many believe that youths do not have enough experience or credibility to create change.

“We have this notion that you can only make change if you have this title, or if you have all of these resources and these networks, but the first step to change-making, from my perspective is having a story, a narrative that you can share with others, that will urge them to make a small action. Everyone comes from such different backgrounds with different kinds of resources,” Chi said. 

However, despite the disparities between adult and youth leadership, Chi had advice for rising leaders.

“Because there aren’t widely available leadership positions to everyone as a student or a teenager, it’s difficult to gain credibility as a leader, as a change maker. That’s what’s so difficult about being a youth advocate. You have to be able to build those doors, build those opportunities. They’re not really going to come to you. Your disadvantages, your background can be your reason for change,” Chi advised. 

“I have lived in Mississippi for most of my life. Just a few years ago, they were ranked number 50 out of 50 states for educational achievements, so moving here and seeing that ‘oh my gosh, everyone is so ahead of me’ in school, or they had all these opportunities to start with, that was a big disadvantage to me,” Chi added. “But I was able to use my experiences and my motivation to make education more equitable for all students. That was my reason for the education policy. That’s why everyone’s interests are going to be different. That’s why everyone is going to have different issues that they’re passionate about, and areas that they’re going to make change[s] in. So we really shouldn’t use change-making from a particular role model or elite leader as = a formula. Everyone has their [own] story to share and different passions to contribute. It’s all going to depend on who you are as a person.”

Youth leadership can be hard, but with the help of adult mentors, a lot of students will be able to enlist change in their communities. Chi’s TED talk is just one great example and one amazing push for blurring the lines between who can be leaders. 

TEDxPSU has been annually holding TEDx conferences since 2010, the team of Penn State students working hard each year to bring together unique people from the community. To learn more about TEDxPSU click here. To listen to Chi’s TED talk, it will be posted to the TEDxPSU website once it has been edited.