Thank you, Sandy [Spavone], for that kind introduction, and for being such a strong believer in the power of youth for so many years.
I also am a believer in the power of youth to affect our nation and our world for the better. I have seen it firsthand. I have seen the good work of FCCLA [Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America] and I have worked closely with past presidents such as Kaylen Larson and Elliot Johnson. Almost exactly two years ago this week, I was in Brazil standing before youth from all over the world who wanted to make roads safer in their communities. Like you, those young people were committed, informed, and passionate. In addition, like you, they knew they could do something to make a difference.
My own passion for transportation safety was sparked when I was 17 years old. You could say it began on a dirt road in the Paraguayan countryside where I spent the summer building latrines as part of a volunteer public health program. That rural community was welcoming, and I loved being surrounded by the many young children who lived there. What I did not love was having to jump into roadside ditches with my young friends every time large vehicles thundered past us on the main road. It was dangerous, and it seemed unfair that we had to do that! It made me angry. Outraged, in fact. In a way, that outrage I felt as a 17-year-old never really went away. But since then, many people – parents, teachers, advisors – have helped me harness that outrage for good.
Some of that outrage is still with me every time the NTSB investigates a crash – a crash that could have been prevented, a crash where families lost loved ones. NTSB investigates transportation disasters to find out exactly what happened, why it happened, and we make safety recommendations to prevent more people from being killed and injured. Outrage for a good cause is something we should not underestimate.
Some people underestimate young people like yourselves. They underestimate what you think and feel, and they underestimate what you can accomplish. Some underestimate the power of young people’s passion and outrage to make your neighborhood, your community, your nation, and your world a better place.
Talking with FCCLA members always reminds me of the power of young people – and of the great adults who support them. As young people, you are sometimes the most at-risk population, but you also have some of the most powerful voices. You have passion. You have energy. You are innovative. You are inspiring. So, we should never, ever underestimate you.
My 9-year-old son is in the 4th grade and his class is reading about Malala, the Pakistani girl who won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 16 for her fight for equality in education.
I used to work at the United Nations and I saw a video where Malala was being interviewed by UN Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, the actress who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies. Although Malala was talking about education, her words ring true for all of us, no matter what issue we are working on and no matter what is our age.
To paraphrase Malala: “It is each and every one of us. From world leaders to parents to civil society to everyone, even to you! Even if you are 11 or 12 (years old), don’t think you can’t do it…Now it’s time that we stand up...”
Wise words from a youth. What struck me, and many others who saw this interview, was Malala also seemed to be such a typical teenager. If Malala and all of you here today are examples of typical young people, then our world is in very good shape.
I am honored to be here today in D.C. with all of you as we observe Veteran’s Day and remember those who have served our country, like my husband’s Uncle Ned and Great Uncle Saul who are buried at Arlington Cemetery.
Because you are here, I know you already know that you can serve our country in many ways. Thank you to each of you for standing up for what is right, and I encourage you to continue finding ways to improve our world. I would certainly welcome your help with MY work to save people’s lives on the roads. Tomorrow, you will hear from the NTSB’s Stephanie Shaw and NHTSA’s Sandy Sinclair about how seatbelts save lives, an issue on the NTSB’s Most Wanted List. I hope you will talk with them and please, do not hesitate also to reach out to me personally, especially if you would like to help strengthen seat belt laws in your state and save hundreds of lives in our great nation.
Let’s stay in touch. Let’s help one another. Let’s harness the power of youth. Thank you.