“Out of the mouths of babes…” or so the saying goes – but time has told us that actions speak much louder than words. When we talk about the up-and-coming bright young things, we tend to pay attention to the young graduates, the talented 20-somethings; but there are several young people who have made a significant impact on our world today who haven’t even left the teenage bracket yet.
Some energised and individually-minded young people have proven wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age, demonstrating their ability to change the world with their wits, their emotions, and ideas. These kids have taken advantage of their circumstances to make the world a better place, resulting in huge changes to our society. With the right connections, resources, and plenty of luck, these fresh-faced kids have influenced even the politicians most set in their ways in the right direction. Their relative youth doesn’t equal inexperience, as these select few teens have proven themselves to be powerhouses when it comes to making their mark on the world.
The teens who made headlines this year for all the right reasons are from vastly varying backgrounds and cultures. From the genius to the artistic to the political, these young people have changed the world for the better. We’ve selected ten teenagers who have certainly started big in their young lives and don’t show any signs of stopping in the future: their legacies have already likely surpassed their lifetimes and will survive them for generations to come.
10. Ionut Budisteanu, 19
In May of 2013, Romanian high school student Ionut Busdisteanu won the International Science and Engineering Fair that included a $75,000 scholarship for his invention of a self-driving car that only costs $4,000 to build – as opposed to Google’s $75,000 prototype. He invented this car by using A.I. technology including a mounted camera that can detect and identify people, other cars, curbs, and traffic lanes. By using this type of relatively basic artificial intelligence, the cost of the innovation is much less expensive than other options and the invention has inspired other manufacturers to look into cost-cutting shortcuts like Budisteanu’s in the self-driving automotive field. He hopes to become a research and university professor and wants to help the world develop in technology; he’s certainly on the right track.
9. Nick D’Aloisio, 18
Declared ‘the teenager who has changed the way the world reads’, Nick D’Aloisio designed the app called Summly, which sums up news articles in just a few sentences. Investors saw great value and potential in this London teen’s app, and Yahoo recently bought the app from D’Aloisio for $30 million. Other investors in D’Aloisio’s work include Ashton Kutcher, Yoko Ono, and Wendi Murdoch. The teen has been designing apps since he was 12 years old – on a Mac under his father’s licensing information – with little to no tech background. Self-driven, he began to learn about programming and studied extensively. The hard work has certainly paid off for him!
8. Beth Reekles, 18
Frustrated with the popularity of repetitive teen fiction books about werewolves and vampires, Beth Reekles took matters into her own hands and wrote her own teen fiction novel at the ripe young age of 15. Her book, The Kissing Booth, was released on Wattpad and gathered more than 19 million views, and caught the attention of major publisher, Random House. Ironically penned as the next Stephanie Meyer, this Welsh teen – now 18 – scooped up a book deal and has since authored three more books. She is currently studying Physics in college and remains well grounded and living a normal life despite her literary success but she taught young people that if you don’t like how something is being done – do it yourself!
7. Brittany Wenger, 18
This 18-year old recent high school graduate from Florida has spoken at TEDx four times, and has been responsible for advancements in the area of cancer research during the last two years. Last year, she created a less invasive way to diagnose breast cancer. Brittany’s cancer diagnosis app won her the Google Science Fair grand prize in 2012 and her work has been going form strength to strength since. Her service and research is called Cloud4Cancer, and her pioneering method uses a computer to help with diagnosis. Now a student at Duke University, she has turned her efforts to leukaemia research, with the same technology and techniques employed in her breast cancer diagnosis. She’s been hailed as the teen who has taught a computer to diagnose cancer using computer algorithms.
6. Zach Sobiech, 18
Zach Sobiech was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a terminal form of cancer – in May of 2012. Faced with the notion of his mortality Zach turned to his friends, his family, and guitar. As a way to say goodbye, Zach began writing songs for his loved ones. His biggest hit, ‘Clouds’, became a YouTube sensation and radio station KS95 premiered his song on the airwaves, touching lives and encouraging everyone to live their lives to the fullest. Zach lost his battle on May 12th, 2013, but it didn’t deter his vision and mission to keep going after he died. His fans pushed ‘Clouds’ to the number one spot on iTunes, with proceeds going towards research in finding a cure for osteosarcoma. Zach’s message of perseverance in the face of adversity is a major inspiration and his courage has made a significant contribution to cancer research.
5. Missy Franklin, 18
Missy Franklin made waves at the 2012 Summer Olympics when she won 6 gold medals for America, becoming the most decorated athlete at a world meet and the fifth swimmer to earn six or more gold medals at the Olympics or Worlds. But, what makes this teen even more inspiring and influential? She turned down millions of dollars in endorsements to go to college and swim for her university team, pursuing academia over short-term financial. With this, she showed young people everywhere that academic achievement can be balanced with extra-curricular success. Missy also won the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year award this year, and continues to work hard and train.
4. Lorde, 17
Hailing from New Zealand, Lorde just turned 17 in November, but has swept the world with her music, most notably her song ‘Royals’ and her debut album ‘Pure Heroine’. Lorde made her breakthrough at 13 and most recently became a sensation in North America. She has made her statement by turning down working with conventional pop artists like Katy Perry because “it didn’t feel right” and has commented on various celebrities and their choices to live by the entertainment business standards. Lorde’s real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, and her unique, independent style has impacted the music industry, influencing young artists to forge their own path and live by their own standards.
3. Malala Yousafzai, 16
Malala has had a huge year, and is now one of the most recognizable activists in the world. She is an equal education activist and advocates education for women in Pakistan. She started out as a blogger for the BBC at the ripe young age of 11, documenting her life as a school girl under Taliban rule; but as she became more well known for her activist efforts, she was a prime target for the Taliban. In 2012, Malala was shot in the neck and the head. Miraculously, she survived the assassination attempt. Instead of cowering in fear, Malala became even more vocal in her campaigning, reaching an international audience. In 2013, this brave teenager was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and addressed the United Nations, campaigning for the right to education for every child around the world. She has also earned a Clinton Global Citizen Award and Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. Malala has survived an attack on her life, and has contributed to changing the world – all before her seventeenth birthday.
2. Maya Van Wagenen, 15
This small-town Texan teen is the youngest author to make a movie deal at DreamWorks for her book, ‘Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek’. The book is based on Maya’s diary, documenting her quest to become popular while following 195os’ self-help book ‘Betty Cornell’s Glamour Guide for Teens’. Her book deal was valued at six-figures from Penguin Books – hugely impressive in itself. But Dreamworks saw the potential for a silver-screen hit and have snapped up the novel before it’s even been published.
1. Jacob Barnett, 15
Jacob Barnett, one of the most promising researchers in the world, hasn’t even hit his sweet 16 yet. He began making waves at the young age of 8 when he started, at Indiana University, auditing physics classes. At age 9 the child genius made discoveries that expanded Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Jacob has an IQ reportedly higher than Einstein’s and this year he became the youngest scholar and emerging researcher ever accepted to the independent Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario. What makes Jacob’s intelligence so influential? Having been diagnosed with Aspberger’s Syndrome, Jacob has not only triumphed over his difficulties but has used his public profile to start a charity for children with Autism, ‘Jacob’s Place’. When Jacob was first diagnosed at 2 years old, doctors told Jacob’s parents that he would always struggle and would barely be able to talk. He has flown in the face of medical fatalism, and described his triumph in his TEDx talk, “Forget What You Know” – still hailed as the third most popular TEDx talk ever.