No role models?

teaching, training, coaching

Key Club members discuss how role models impact Generation Z.

Story by Danielle Karstens

When was the last time you thought about your role models? No doubt it’s a question you’ve answered time and time again. Whether an assignment for class, an essay prompt for a college application or just an insightful conversation with fellow Key Club members, by now you’ve probably formed some solid opinions about whom you admire and who doesn’t make the cut.

But if you were to compare those projects, essays and conversations from teens around the globe, how much overlap would you expect to see? Is there a “voice” of your generation: Gen Z?

“In this day and age, there are so many different opinions, especially among teens and young people, that I don’t think we could all agree on one voice to represent our generation as a whole,” said Lauren Sizemore, past president of Crossroads Christian Key Club in Moody, Alabama. “I feel that each and every person in this generation is capable of finding their own voice that conveys to our peers what we believe in our heart and mind.”

Deborah Thorpe, treasurer of St. Andrew High School for Girls Key Club in Jamaica, agrees that while there is no one overarching voice, there are many public figures who embody the issues Gen Zers are passionate about, citing Barack and Michelle Obama, Ellen DeGeneres and Terri Karelle, a Jamaican media personality. However, Deborah believes musicians are the most influential.

“My generation loves music,” Deborah says. “If I may, music is our life; we incorporate it in everything we do (social media, classes, studying, even sleeping), so the lyrics we listen to tend to have an impact on how we act and the choices we make. Even if it is subconscious, it does have an impact.”

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According to a 2014 study by Northeastern University—which surveyed more than 1,000 members of Generation Z between the ages of 16 and 19 in the United States—69 percent of respondents ranked parents as their number-one role model. Trailing behind mom and dad were teachers, religious leaders, celebrities, professional athletes and political leaders.

“I don’t look up to one person for everything and base my actions around what they would do,” says Charlotte Pratt, past Key Club president at Napier Girls High School in New Zealand. “Instead, I prefer to look at small traits within different people and look up to those good parts, which causes me to aspire to be a better person in that sense. We can’t all be the next Malala Yousafzai; however, taking a step in the right direction, using small changes for the good and better, will be overall more effective in my opinion.”

Of course, if there’s no individual voice of the generation, it stands to reason that there is no singular cause Gen Z advocates. Instead, you and your peers around the world are regularly forming and discussing opinions on myriad social issues.

“I’ve been really fond of the Global Goals site,” Pratt says. “They have a list of 17 goals they would like to achieve in the world, and you are exposed to more issues that you never realized were occurring in this day and age and have never thought about, which is really interesting. I would like to expand on this more and share the site in the community to try and give help to the current issues.”

Kiwanis volunteer Jerry Richmond (in background) and Key Club vo

An old cliché says variety is the spice of life, and Gen Z certainly doesn’t have a shortage of influential voices to consider. Each person may have their own short list of individuals who rise above the pack, but without a doubt, it’s a dynamic lineup.

“We seem to have even more role models in this generation than the last due to social media,” Sizemore says. “More people are able to put out their feelings on different subjects in a way that only this generation has experienced. … There’s always someone to look up to or listen to when it comes to any and every topic.”

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