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Science

Take Action On Your Passions — You Can Make A Difference, Says TIME Magazine's Kid Of The Year

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Courtesy Bharathi Rao
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Gitanjali Rao, of Lone Tree, Colorado, is Time Magazine's first Kid of the Year.

The future doesn’t have to feel bleak, and the next generation may be the best suited to remind us. Around the world, kids are seeing the future as an opportunity to apply their creativity. One of those kids is Gitanjali Rao, who lives in Lone Tree, Colorado and won TIME magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year award.

“The really exciting thing is that our generation is growing up in a place where we’re seeing problems that have never existed before,” said Rao. “It’s up to us to take control of that opportunity and realize that innovation is a necessity, not an option.”

TIME has been naming a Person of the Year since 1927. In 2019, Greta Thunberg (then 16 years old) became the youngest person ever to receive the award.

In 2020, TIME created the Kid of the Year award and chose 15-year-old Rao and four honorees out of 5,000 people under 18 for making a positive impact.

And Rao certainly is.

  • She developed an anti-bullying app called Kindly.
  • She’s leading workshops all over the world to help kids become innovators and wrote a book about the innovation process.

Her interests are so varied, you may be wondering how she chooses what problem she wants to solve.

“It’s like these problems that you know exist, but you know nobody’s doing anything about it. And it seems so unfair and so annoying that other people across the country are having to go through something like this but you’re not,” said Rao.

She’s able to turn a problem into something that inspires her to take action, and then she just starts by reading – a lot.

“Reading about resources on the internet, learning more about genetic technology, whatever I’m interested in and see what connects back to the work that I’m doing,” she explained.

She knows what she is passionate about, and she has the support to follow those feelings.

“They allowed me to kind of explore beyond what I thought was the normal,” she said, speaking of her parents. “I was able to pick out what I wanted to do, what I wanted to continue to do, you know, what I wanted to let go of. But, it gave me the opportunity to expand beyond what I thought was possible. I’m really fortunate to have parents who let me go after my passions, help me find out what my passions are instead of being forced into it.”

Her passions led her to compete in science fairs.

“That’s what excites me so much about science fair and things like that, is I see kids from everywhere across Colorado coming up with awesome things,” said Rao.

And while it’s clear that she gets excited about the competition, her motivation comes from the impact she could make.

“There’s no real deadline! This is what I love to do and I should continue to do it even past the science fair, even past my competitions. So, don’t get stressed out,” she said.

She said that learning computer programming has been really helpful. Scratch, a coding platform designed for kids, gave her the confidence to move onto other languages like Python, which she says she’s now fluent in.

She’s also gotten support from research-level scientists by spending time in a lab — which she describes as being like a kitchen with six refrigerators — at the University of Colorado, Denver. She’s worked with protein gels (called “Western Blots”) and DNA gels but, more importantly, she’s built resilience.

“Even after the 50th time something still goes wrong. The last time I did it the gel tore, and I was so sad, but it’s okay. It’s okay. I can run Western Blots now, but DNA – DNA’s where it’s at,” she said.

Rao said that giving kids access to lab environments is happening more and more, and it’s a really good thing.

That passion, mixed with a solid dose of optimism is how she thinks we need to tackle the future. She’s even optimistic about online school.

“We were reading Othello one day and one of the characters had a song and then we like rapped it all the way through. Like, this is, I mean, we don’t have the opportunity to do stuff like that outside of class, which is super fun,” Rao said.

She says that it’s about taking small steps. Lots and lots of small steps – towards something you’re passionate about, and that’s what she wants to encourage everyone to do: “Find something you’re passionate about and go for it, because YOU can make a difference in this world. Even if it’s something small, every little thing that you do makes a difference,” Rao said.

She’s passionate about her state, too and loves hiking. “When you’re driving to school every day and you see mountains, it’s like why would I even turn back,” she said.