The Kids are Alright

Don't let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, people! (Chameleon Associates)

Don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, people! (Chameleon Associates)

It seems as if every time I check news sources for new blog material, I find stories about kids committing crimes or doing harm to themselves or others. Most of the time, teenagers are responsible for these disturbing acts, which makes sense considering how tumultuous the teenage years can be. I experienced some of this myself—as I’m sure most (if not all) of you did when you were younger—but teenagers today have a lot more to deal with than we did at that age. Granted, this doesn’t justify bad behavior and criminal activity, but it certainly makes it easier to understand.

The most notable teen criminal in recent years was, of course, Adam Lanza. On December 14, 2012, he murdered his mother as she slept in their home, went to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School “armed to the teeth,” killed six staff members and twenty children in cold blood, and then turned the gun on himself. One fateful day was all Lanza needed to perpetrate the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in our nation’s history. Unfortunately, we will never know what prompted these violent acts since the truth died the moment Lanza placed a gun to his head and pulled the trigger.

Juvenile crime and youth violence are nothing new, mind you. Numerous government agencies release crime statistics every year that show just how troubled our young people can be. According to 2010 statistics released by the U.S. Census Bureau, for instance, there were “225 arrests for Violent Crime Index offenses for every 100,000 youth between 10 and 17 years of age.” That same year, “juvenile offenders were known to be involved in 8% of all homicides in the United States.” These numbers may not seem all that significant, but I have no doubt victims’ families would disagree.

Despite these numbers and the perceived increase in youth violence over the last few years, the fact is that there are still good kids out there who seem better equipped to deal with the challenges they face than the troubled teens we often see in the headlines. Since their stories seem to be reported much less frequently than their violent counterparts, though, it seems like very little is being done to change the public’s perception of our young people.

With any luck, these stories will help to do just that.

Last week, I read about 14-year-old Suvir Mirchandani, a sixth-grader at Dorseyville Middle School in Pittsburgh whose science fair project not only got the attention of Sarah Frankhauser—one of the founders of the Journal for Emerging Investigators (JEI), a publication founded in 2011 by Harvard graduate studentsbut also piqued the interest of the U.S. government.

Suvir can save the US government millions... if they choose to listen (CNN)

Suvir can save the US government millions… if they choose to listen (CNN)

Given his interest in computer science and environmental sustainability—and because he noticed an increase in the number of handouts he received in middle school—Suvir looked for ways to reduce paper and ink consumption at his school. Since recycling and double-sided printing had already been discussed, he decided to focus on something completely different: the fonts (or typefaces) being used.

After conducting a thorough analysis of numerous fonts, Suvir determined that using Garamond—with its thin strokes—could save his school as much as $21,000 a year and reduce their ink consumption by 24%. His teacher encouraged him to submit his findings to JEI, who then challenged him to apply his research to one of the least efficient organizations in our great nation: the federal government.

Just so you know, the U.S. government spends nearly $2 billion each year on printing, which certainly complicated things for Suvir. Fortunately—and after obtaining sample documents from the Government Printing Office’s website—Suvir completed his research and determined that using the Garamond font could cut annual ink and printing costs by almost 30%. This could save the federal government as much as $136 million per year—an extra $234 million per year could be saved if state governments also changed their typefaces.

A representative from the Government Printing Office called Suvir’s work “remarkable,” but couldn’t say whether his advice would be heeded or not. Of course, no one makes a better point for why this change should occur than Suvir himself.

“Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume,” he said recently, which is true since Chanel No. 5 costs roughly $38 per ounce as opposed to the $75 price tag on HP printer ink. “I definitely would love to see some actual changes, [but] I recognize it’s difficult to change someone’s behavior.”

And when that behavior belongs to an entity like the U.S. government, change can be even harder to achieve. The fact that we have kids like Suvir out there—ready and waiting to improve our nation and our world—at least gives us some hope for the future.

Another young person who deserves to be recognized here is Kwasi Enin, a high school student from Shirley, New York. After posting a nearly perfect SAT score—2250 out of 2400, placing him in the 98th percentile—and being ranked 11th in his graduating class, Kwasi applied to eight Ivy League schools and did the unthinkable: he got into ALL of them!

Kwasi has too many schools to choose from! (William Floyd School District)

Kwasi has too many schools to choose from! (William Floyd School District)

Despite their strenuous admissions requirements and nearly legendary selectivity, Kwasi still managed to get into Harvard—whose most recent acceptance rate was only 5.9%–Brown, Yale, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. He was also accepted to Duke University and three other schools in New York. And though he must decide which to attend by the May 1st deadline, I’m certain this is a problem that Kwasi doesn’t mind having. Congratulations, young man!

It’s true that our young people face all sorts of challenges—from bullying and designer drugs to sexting and active shooters on campus—but people like Suvir and Kwasi prove that one “bad apple” in the headlines simply cannot spoil the whole bunch. And it’s about time we started focusing more attention on the “good apples,” don’t you think?

Posted on April 2, 2014, in Perspectives and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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