Chelsea Clinton

At TEDxTeen - April 8, 2013

Chelsea Clinton
April 08, 2013— Long Beach, California
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Thank everybody, I'm so excited to be here at TEDxTeen today with all of you in the room, and with Andrew, and everyone who's joining us online from around the world.

I was so excited to be asked to participate in TEDxTeen, because I fundamentally believe in the principle behind this gathering today. That young people, just as much as anyone, maybe even more than most, have vital contributions to make to our world today and to our future tomorrow. I absolutely believe that your voices should be heard, because you have things to say. As we heard Chris Anderson earlier, in the spirit of Ted, you absolutely have ideas that are worth spreading. That may seem obvious, after all we're all here today.

But I don't think it's very obvious to a lot of young people around the world, who look at the complexity of the challenges we face, from poverty, to disease, to war, to climate change, and think, how can I ever make a difference? How could I ever have an impact? They may look in the mirror, and see their reflections, and think that’s not what a change maker looks like, that's not what advocate looks like, that's not a leader looks like. They may have adults who unfortunately reinforce those messages in their lives. Although maybe those sentiments are somewhat understandable, they're completely wrong. We here today need to repudiate them once and for all

Because it's so important. It's so important because you can do crucial things that it’s hard for older people, including me, to do. I am like three times older than the guy who’s following me, I'm old compared to a lot of you. It's also important because engaging in the work of the world, trying to figure out how to make people's lives better, whether they live next door or on another continent, is deeply rewarding, and it's a lot of fun. The sooner you start in life, the more of it you can get into your life. It's important because you don't have deeply ingrained biases. It's important because you're willing to ask what often is the simplest question, but goes un-asked, why?

The theme of today is “The Audacity of Why,” I often think it's important to have the audacity to ask why. Why something like the way it is? Why is it not different? Why is it not better? By asking those questions, and being willing to take risks and try new things, that maybe older people might hesitate to do, you force the rest of us to think more boldly, to act more boldly. We are all better off for having you engaged.

You're also digital natives. I was in high school when I set my first e-mail. I didn’t get my first cell phone until I was 21, also a little bit of a comment on my parents view of technology. You were born at a time when the Internet, and SMS technology already existed. That's amazing. I also think that even though many of you are not Millennials, the first generation to come of age in this new Millennium, a lot of you are actually younger than that, what the Pew Research Center study found a few years ago to be true of millennials, I think is true of many people in this audience. That Millennials are more likely to be confident, connected, and open to change, than the rest of us. Those are qualities that we need in abundance right now in this world. So all of us have a vested interest in helping each of you live up to your full potential, and make the most of all the contributions that you desperately want to make and that you have inside you. Even if you don't know they're there yet.

I'd like to offer a few thoughts on how I think you can do that. Lessons that have helped me in my life, as I try to figure out how to engage. What to do, what not to do. Before I do that, I want to start with something that deeply resonates with me and has sort of been a north star in my life. It’s a quote from Teddy Roosevelt. Now obviously a fashion icon, and his time. Teddy was 23 when he was elected to the New York State Assembly, the youngest person ever to be elected. He wrote his first book when he was 24, and in 1901 he became the youngest person ever to be elected to the Presidency the United States. A title he still holds today. So if you're looking for a young person who had a deep sense of urgency, and felt a deep responsibility to make a difference, it's hard to find a better example than Teddy Roosevelt.

Here in a nutshell was his philosophy, “It's not the critic who counts; not the man he points out how a strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena.” What is the man or the woman in the arena look like? They’re someone, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself or herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

It's pretty intense, no one would accuse President Roosevelt of being laid back, but I think that it contains a really fundamental truth. That engaging in the work the world, is hard, but it's the best kind of work. Because it is deeply rewarding, even when our effort doesn't produce the results that we want it to. Because every failure contains lessons, and increases the chances for success next time. So it's better to be in the arena, than on the sidelines. Or as we like to say in my family, it’s always better to get caught trying.

So how to begin, and once you've begun, how to keep going. There are three lessons that have helped me answer those questions in my own life. That help me continue to answer those questions, because the answering of them itself it's a lifelong process. They've been imparted to me by many teachers, including my parents, who have dedicated their lives to the service others. And by the many change makers I worked with through the Clinton Foundation, and all of its various initiatives. They are, one: start where you are, two: have the courage to be second, and three: because you can, you should.

So one, start where you are. What are you passionate about? What do you want to learn everything you can about, so you can be the world expert? What really pisses you off and makes you angry? What just makes no sense in the 21st century? These questions are the entry points determining how you can make a difference in the world. Where you are best suited to make impact. I think sometimes when people start to answer those questions in their own head, they sometimes dismiss their ideas. They think, oh, that’s small, that’s silly, no one's gonna care.

While that could be construed as humility, and humility is hugely important and admirable, that’s not humility. That’s self-defeat. On the other hand, if people start thinking about how best to answer some of those questions, and they come up with ideas, and they're willing to unleash those ideas into the world, and open them up to scrutiny and try to find the right partners to translate those ideas into real action, some people might think that's arrogance. That's not arrogance, that’s integrity.

That leads me to Kyle McCollom, whom I met through the Clinton Global Initiative University program, something I'll come back to later. Kyle was at Vanderbilt in Nashville, and he spent a semester living in a halfway house, because he really wanted understand why so many the men that he would live with, would likely commit a crime again and wind back up in prison. Time and time again, he had the same conversation, he heard the same thing. Men would say to him, if only I could find a job, I wouldn't commit a crime. But no one will hire me, because I have a record.

Kyle really wanted to do something about that, but he just didn't know what to do. He went back to campus, moved back into his dorm, was walking around one day, and he noticed something. He noticed lots of people wearing custom printed T-shirts, individualized, custom printed t-shirts. He had an idea. He thought, I’m going to start a company, even though I'm still in college, and it's going to employ all the people that I knew at the halfway house, to make these custom printed t-shirts. People thought that he was crazy. But Kyle knew that this could work, and today the company that he started, Triple Threat apparel, has employed 30 ex-offenders in jobs that enable them to earn and income, and enable them to work with dignity, and have provided them a path not back to prison. They've sold more than 20,000 T-shirts.

I also think about Danyel Johnson, she's eleven years old, she’s Native American, lives on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico. She’s always been really healthy. She played baseball, not softball, basketball, loved to run around. One day, she got really sick and had to be rushed to the hospital. Her appendix had burst, she had to have an emergency appendectomy. Thankfully, she was okay. While she was recovering, for the first time in her life, she was thinking about the fact that she was really lucky to be healthy and she was noticing that a lot other kids around her really unhealthy. They were generally unhealthy because they were really obese.

When she noticed that, she knew she had to do something about it. She lobbied her school to have a Navajo themed field day. Where the school would have Navajo themed dances, and gamed, and races, so that kids could learn about their cultural heritage while also starting to get fitter and healthier. Her school had it, it was a huge success, and now she's helping other schools, and other parts of her community, adopt similar field days, so the kids can keep learning about their cultural heritage and keep getting healthier. She's also now on the Youth Advisory Board the Alliance for a healthier generation. The partnership between the Clinton Foundation and American Heart Association, that's the largest anti childhood obesity program in the country. So not only is Danielle making her community healthier, she's making the rest of us smarter. She just started where she was.

Second, appropriately, have the courage to be second. There's a lot of pressure to be first, to be the first to break a record, to be the first to invent something, and we're all grateful for that pressure. It's led to remarkable breakthroughs that have enabled us to live longer, to live healthier to be more connected, makes life more interesting. But the real impact of any innovation isn’t when someone has an idea, isn’t when someone first prototypes that idea, it’s when other people pay attention. It’s when other people adopt those ideas, adapt those ideas. That's the true impact of anything new that bursts onto the world stage. I think most problems in the world have been solved by somebody, somewhere. We should spend our time and energy focusing on those that haven't been solved, but also identifying what does work. Scaling it, if that's right answer. Translating it, if that's a better answer. I think that means we not only need to have the courage to be second, but to be eager to be second.

That leads me to Tyler Spencer. Someone else I met through CGI U. Tyler was a college athlete, he spent two summers in South Africa, working in a program that you soccer, or football for you non-Americans, to teach kids about HIV/AIDS. He loved the program, mainly because he saw how effective it was. One night, when he was back at school sitting in his dorm room, in Washington DC, he wondered about what the HIV infection rate was in our nation's capital. So he, like I'm sure most of us would have, googled it. He found out that it's actually one in twenty, five percent. Five percent of Washington DC is HIV positive. That's a rate that is on par with or actually worse than some of the hardest-hit sub-Saharan African countries.

Tyler was appropriately appalled, then thought, I have to do something, and then thought, I know at least what I should try first. I should try to take the program that I know is working in South Africa, and figure out how we could do something similar here in Washington D.C. Now a couple years later, the grassroots project that Tyler started has leveraged the energies of more than 400 college athletes, to teach more than 3,000 D.C. school children about the risks of HIV/ AIDS, and how to protect themselves. Now other college athletes are reaching out to Tyler, from across the country, to figure out how they can do something similar on their campuses, and in their communities. Sometimes it's not only about having the courage to be second, but having the courage to be third, or fourth, or fifth.

Finally, because you can, you should. This is an idea that's as old as time itself. Jesus said to whom much is given, much is expected. FDR said great power, involves great responsibility, something my husband thinks Spiderman said, but it actually was FDR in his last State of the Union. My grandmother told me frequently, that life is not about what happens to you, it's about what you do with what happens to you. A pretty remarkable outlook, given that she was abandoned buy her own parents twice before the age of eight, and when she was 13 her grandparents kicked out of the house, and she had to get a job to supporter herself. Yet, she still very much believed it was up to each of us, to set our own course forward.

She urged me to think about how best to use my skills, my talents, my stubbornness, also my opportunities, and my advantages, to ensure that there were more stories in our world, like my mother's, than like my grandmother's. To think about how I could make a difference in solving the problems that tugged at my conscience. How I could help identify, and scale or translate solutions that were working elsewhere. How I can use my voice to amplify the message and the work of other individuals and organizations that I passionately believed in. So it let me to be on the stage today with all of you. That's what will make me so excited about sitting in the audience later and listening, to so many of you, and to following your careers and figuring out how I can help you make the difference that you want to make, going forward. it's also what led me to Nigeria few months ago, where I was there to talk about diarrhea.

Sometimes what you can, you should, really is as simple as talking about things that make other people squeamish, or uncomfortable. Because that's not a reason to stay silent. I think it's unconscionable that in the 21st century, more than a million kids every year under the age of five, still die of diarrhea in the world, or severe dehydration caused by diarrhea. Something that we know how to prevent, and to treat. So I was in Nigeria to talk about diarrhea, to try to help to de-stigmatize it. But also, to help talk about the work that we're doing through the Clinton Health Access Initiative with the Nigerian government, to lower drastically, the price of treatment, so that mothers not only are comfortable talking about diarrhea, but know that they can afford a remedy, so that their kids can grow up and be healthy. We think that by 2015, will help save lives more than 200,000 children in Nigeria alone. If that's true, then we know that we have to do that work everywhere and anywhere we can, because each success brings not only new opportunities, but new responsibilities.

I often think about what my great heroes’, Wangari Maathai About forty years ago, Wangari was a young zoology professor in Nairobi and she started to notice severe environmental degradation all around her. Now it could have been understandable if she thought I'm one of the only female faculty members, I probably shouldn't cause any waves. I'm also one of the youngest faculty members, people won't take me seriously. But she didn't think that. She thought, what can I do, and she thought I can plant a tree. So she planted a tree. Then she planted another tree. And then she planted a whole tree nursery. Then others started to come to her, being willing to be second, and say, can we join you? Can we emulate you? You inspire us. How can we help? Today, The Green Belt Movement that Wangari started, literally with one tree, almost forty years ago today, has led to 51 million new trees being planted in Kenya.

Not incidentally, Wangari won the Nobel Peace Prize, the first African woman to so do. I'm pretty sure that when she planted the first tree, she didn't think, in about three decades, I’m going to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She also probably never could have imagined that she would have inspired similar efforts, not only throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but throughout Latin America, throughout North America, throughout Asia. You never know what will happen when you take that first step, when you stand up and you say, because I can do something, I should do something. What you may spark. What accolades you may acquire. What inspiration you may instill. What a difference you really could make.

In a couple weeks, we're having the sixth Clinton Global Initiative University meeting at the Washington University in Saint Louis. I'm so excited, because when I think about all those people who doubt whether young people really can make a difference, I'm now going to think about all of you and rebuke to that. But I’m also going to think about all the students that I’ve met through CGI U. Students like Tyler, and Kyle, I certainly hope that Danyel will come when she's old enough.

I think about the students that I met last year, who are using SMS crowd sourcing technology to give refugees a voice. Who are using their coding skills to help NGOs and local government solve challenges they couldn't solve on their own. The more than forty five hundred students, who have made more than 3500 commitments, to make a difference in the world. Who have stood up and said because I can, I should, because I should, I will.

I know that today we're gonna hear from a lot of young people, who are already doing that. I certainly hope that all of you in the audience today and all of you watching online at home, will then think about how, because you can, you should, in your own lives. Because the arena isn't this ephemeral place that's in the future when you grow up someday. The arena is here, it’s in your home, it’s in your school, it’s in your neighborhood, and it’s in your city, your country, our world. I hope that you will dear greatly, and act boldly, because the worst thing that happens in life, as we say in my family, is you get caught trying. Thank you very much.

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