As you well know, Time magazine has been giving out their famous “Person of the Year” award for 90 some odd years now. Last year, in 2019, the award went to the world’s unhappiest child and political activist, Greta Thunberg. And while I can’t say I’m the least bit thrilled that such a spoiled brat won the award, it did present a new opportunity for Time that has turned into a rather wonderful endeavor.
You see, as a mere teenager, Greta was the youngest person ever awarded the prize, as well as the first person under the age of 25. This led Time to the consideration of a Kid of the Year Award to be given as well.
And so this year, the tradition begins.
So who is 2020’s Kid of the Year?
Meet Gitanjali Rao, a 15-year-old scientist and inventor from Lone Tree, Columbia.
Instead of complaining about the damages of climate change and encouraging kids to skip school and protest, Rao has created some marvelous artificial intelligence and carbon nanotube sensor technology inventions that help the world be a better place. In addition, she has worked long and hard to create a massive endeavor to counteract cyberbullying, as well as water contamination.
According to MSN News, the award began with a field of about 5,000 nominees and, over time, was whittled down to five.
“Time magazine chose five finalists total, with the other four being 14-year-old Tyler Gordan from San Jose, Calif., 14-year-old Jordan Reeves from Columbia, Mo., 10-year-old Bellen Woodward from Leesburg, Va., and 16-year-old Ian McKenna from Austin, Texas.”
The outlet continued, “Gordan has painted more than 500 portraits of Black people who inspire him, Reeves designed toys better suited for kids with disabilities, Woodward launched a crayon line for the wide variety of skin colors and McKenna started a garden to help feed families unable to afford enough food.”
Certainly, some marvelous kids, and all decidedly more deserving than the unhappy Thunberg.
As for Rao, one of her most proud inventions is an app for teenagers that spots cyberbullying. Rao says, “It’s a service called Kindly – there’s an app and a Chrome extension – which is able to detect cyberbullying at an early stage, based on artificial-intelligence technology. I started to hard-code some words that could be considered bullying, and then my engine took those words and identified words that are similar. You type in a word or phrase, and it’s able to pick it up if it’s bullying, and it gives you the option to edit it or send it the way it is.”
Rao says that the “goal is not to punish. As a teenager, I know teenagers tend to lash out sometimes. Instead, it gives you the chance to rethink what you’re saying so that you know what to do the next time around.”
Kind of ingenious, right?
And according to the surveys she has put out about the app and its possibilities, kids actually want to use it.
She is also currently working on a new way to detect things like parasites in water or bio-contaminants.
And if that isn’t enough, Rao works with students worldwide to cultivate their thoughts and abilities to invent and create on a massive scale. According to her, she’s helped over 30,000 students in this way, mainly by holding workshops.
She encourages students not to get overwhelmed by all the bad they see in the world. Instead, focus on one thing at a time. Take something you are passionate about or that interests you and begin to try and solve that problem – even if it’s something small.
And, of course, she has a process for the whole thing.
“I just took what worked for me and decided to share it with everyone else… It started with a simple presentation and lesson plans, and then I started adding labs and contests that students could do. Now I’ve partnered with rural schools, girls in STEM organizations, museums all across the world, and bigger organizations like Shanghai International Youth Science and Technology group and the Royal Academy of Engineering in London to run innovation workshops.”
Not that I think we need more awards in a society when even the losers get a trophy. But if you’re going to have an award, it might as well be for kids like this and not for those who only seem good at complaining.