Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

Opening the box

Opening the box

Katya Gvozdenko

Year 12

Close your eyes.

Yes, really. And no, no one is looking.

Close your eyes.

Ignore your brain's improvised light show inside your eyelids, with the twinkling, sparkling, swirling pattern of colours and shapes and stars.

Ignore the trifling ticking of the clock; ignore the playful chirping of the birds and the faint rustle of the leaves.

Now, raise your right hand and point to ....... North.

Hard, isn't it? If we had 60 people in this room, there is a high likelihood that they would be pointing in 61 different directions. Yet, we all know that North exists. At some stage in our lives we have all relied on North to get us from Point A to Point B. In fact, if given a map, we could all point to the direction of North.  But, when it comes down to the simple matter of relying on our own instincts, we all have different perspectives. There is a different inner compass for every individual.

We are all unique.

That is the reason great stories such as Brave New World are exactly that - great, poignant and powerful. The idea of being defined in a small box, such as being forever destined to wear grey as a Beta, scares us. We are all special, with our own personalities shining as brightly as the Northern lights.

But then, as a society, why do we insist on placing teenagers in a box? Not just any box, but a box seen with dark-coloured glasses, instead of rose-coloured ones. A box where we call all adolescents rebellious, selfish and irresponsible.

Let me tell you about Rose. I first saw Rose huddled in a corner at an Easter egg hunt, with a wistful smile. I was just about to celebrate my triumph in my overflowing bounty when her sparkling green eyes met mine. Rose had no Easter Eggs. So, with childish eagerness, I skipped towards her and shyly offered her some. Ever since that moment, I have been close friends with Rose, seeing her almost every week. There is just one catch. Rose turns 97 this year.  

'You are selfish creatures' the box tells us. 'You are irresponsible'. Yet, every day I see my friends interacting with the Roses in their lives, whether it's that bothersome 8-year-old neighbour they entertain, the friendly conversations with Postman Sally or the kind gestures to beloved grandparents.

'You engage in risky behaviours' we are told. 'Your brains have not fully developed'  we are constantly reminded. Perhaps that is true, but these are neither excuses nor explanations. Teenagers all around the world have demonstrated bravery and courage, from Parkland students advocating for stricter gun laws, to tens of thousands of young Australians fighting for climate change.  Is this risky behaviour? Maybe. But if so, perhaps 'risky behaviour' is the solution to saving our gorgeous blue planet.

My point is, hold teenagers to a high standard, and we will live up to it. Believe not in the men and women we will become, but in the selfless, diligent and ambitious boys and girls we are now.

What matters is opening the box that 13-year-olds are thrust into. What matters is believing in the beautiful qualities and characteristics we have that deserve to be seen and heard.

We are so much more than just 'rebellious teens'.

We are the future. And what a bright future it may be if our light is allowed to shine now.

Let us reach up towards North together, high and higher, believing in humanity, in the compassion, selflessness and empathy that span across generations.

Let's open our eyes.