She’s the First was invited to keynote the National Honor Society induction at NEST+m, New York’s premier K-12 public school on the Lower East Side (this is the type of school we wish could be accessible to girls all over the world!). Tammy Tibbetts, our President, was introduced by Kira West, a go-getting student and officer of the NHS, whom Tammy met when she spoke at the K!dult Youth Leadership Conference this summer.
Tammy, the first female keynote this NHS chapter ever had, spoke about the vision of She’s the First and our belief that social media can create social change. Below is a transcript of the speech. Let us know what you think, and if you were a member of your high school’s own National Honor Society!
As Kira mentioned, a year ago, I started a not-for-profit called She’s the First, which connects young donors to girls they can support in the developing world. We are a movement of young men and women using our creativity to give just a little, and turn it into a lot with our collective teamwork.
Girls’ education became a strong passion of mine after I did some traveling and saw how a education program for abandoned children in Liberia, West Africa transformed their opportunities in life. I started to learn in my 20s that there are 600 million adolescent girls in the developing world, and a majority of them are not completing school. Yet, when a girl is educated, there are so many positive correlations: she’ll get a job, earn a salary, marry later, have less children, raise healthier children, and the health and wellness of the family and community will improve overall. Eradicating abuse and neglect of girls and women worldwide is being called the cause of our time.
But if you think I was voted Most Likely to Save the World in high school, think again. Yes, I had a very high GPA, and I was inducted into my own National Honor Society chapter at South Brunswick High School in suburban New Jersey. But when it was yearbook time senior year, classmates voted me Most Shy. I never said a word in class…if I couldn’t speak up about my thoughts on The Odyssey, how could I even think about being an advocate for others, especially those on the other side of the world? It never crossed my mind. I did community service, but in a very quiet, and almost a very routine way, for the college admissions process.
Back then, the thought of giving a speech would have had my stomach in double knots. No surprise, I was not popular at all. I didn’t even go to my high school prom…so it’s just a little ironic that several years later, I would become the prom web site editor of Seventeen magazine and launch its DonateMyDress.org campaign for girls who can’t afford prom dresses. I now often say, “If you rock the prom, you can rock the world,” based on my job…but really, that’s another way of saying, if you have the chance to go to school and make a difference there, then there is no limit to what you can achieve when you walk out these doors with your cap and gown.
So what I want to talk about today, knowing what I do about how the last eight years of my life turned out, is this: How do you build on the smarts, the service, and the leadership that brought you to these coveted spots here today, so that you can not only achieve something beyond your wildest dreams, but look back and say…wow, I didn’t only do well. I did good in the world.
Well, full disclosure, I am only 24 and have a lot of learning left to do myself. But I can tell you what I think did it for me: It was discovering the power of a network. I started to practice being my outspokenness in writing first, and I became a journalism major. I used my writing to edge my way into a professional network when I was a student – for me, it was New York Women in Communications. You are lucky to now be part of the National Honor Society network as of today, and there are many networks you will discover out there for math, technology, and science if you haven’t already. Embrace them. And then, I got really engaged in social media, on Facebook and Twitter. Granted, I didn’t have these in high school…I joined Facebook when I was a sophomore in college and Twitter about two years ago. Today, I have more than 1,600 followers and She’s the First has about 2,000 on both Twitter and Facebook…not much compared to our favorite celebrities, but it’s decent. When ever in history have young people had outlets where they could broadcast a message to these many people in a click of a button? Sure, lots of people might use Facebook as a place to post cryptic Facebook statuses, to check up on someone they have a crush on, or Tweet insignificant complaints.
But, here is my question for you today: What if our networks on Facebook and Twitter became another platform for all of us to demonstrate and share our knowledge, service, and leadership? Think about the voice each of you has and your personal passions. Are you posting news articles about what you care about to your Facebook feed, to spread awareness among your friends? I’m going to guess that many of you probably have, because you earned your spot among this elite group here today. And if you haven’t, you can start today. It’s worthwhile to stop yourself at least once a week and ask yourself, am I using the people around me to the best of my ability – to achieve my own dreams…and then help others do the same?
Last week in The New York Times, I read two very inspiring articles that I wanted to share pieces from. One was called “The Crossroads Nation,” by David Brooks, and he wrote about how lucky we are to tap into global networks, right from where we are within the United States. This is how he describes an “extraordinarily creative person.”
She comes from a little place somewhat removed from the center of power and influence. As an adolescent, she feels herself outgrowing her own small circle. She moves to a metropolis and finds a group of people who share her passions and interests. She gets involved with a team to create something amazing.
Then, at some point, she finds her own problem, which is related to and yet different from the problems that concern others in her group. She breaks off and struggles and finally emerges with some new thing. She brings it back to her circle. It is tested, refined and improved.
The main point in this composite story is that creativity is not a solitary process. It happens within networks. It happens when talented people get together, when idea systems and mentalities merge.
That’s the end of my first except. Hopefully many of you, male and female, see yourselves in that description. Isn’t it amazing how when we have an idea, if we collaborate with others, we can turn it into something so much bigger? That’s exactly how She’s the First started, by the way. I had the name and the nugget of an idea, and I posted an article to my Facebook wall, an article from a Liberian newspaper faulting girls for early pregnancy…I was so enraged that girls were not given an education to prevent the teen pregnancy, that I posted that to my Wall. A girl who I met through my scholarship program, but whom I never really truly got to know, told me she totally agreed and asked if she could ever help me do something about it. We started messaging, and the rest is history. Christen is now my Executive Director. And Mark Zuckerberg can be pleased to know, it all started on Facebook.
The second New York Times article I read was called “My Endless New York,” and the author talks about what it’s like to be in NYC specifically. As to what makes New York City unique, he says, “It looks outward, and is thus attractive to people who would not feel comfortable further inland. It has never been American in the way that Paris is French: New York has always been about something else as well.” My favorite part is his closing: “To be sure, we all have our complaints. And while there is no other city where I could imagine living, there are many places that, for different purposes, I would rather be. But this too is a very New York sentiment. Chance made me an American, but I chose to be a New Yorker. I probably always was.”
So how did I go from a student earning the grades to get into the National Honor Society, to someone whose passion is spreading knowledge to others? Well for one, I gained some amazing tools, Facebook and Twitter, to build a platform for what I care about. And two, I moved to New York City. That was possible because I had scored a job working as a magazine web site editor, given my education.
The future of our nation and world rests upon the advancements in science and technology. There are so many barriers yet to break, to make our world a better, more equal and healthier place. Today is the first day of your legacy as National Honor Society members from NEST+m. To those of you who are the first in your family to belong to the National Honor Society, I applaud you. To all of you, congratulations. I look forward to following you online to watch the impact you will have on our world offline. Together, let’s work to achieve our goals and trust that in the process, we may even make dreams we can’t even imagine now come true…for us, and others in our communities and around the world.