I remember clearly what it felt like to be a teenager growing up in Puerto Rico. I cared about a lot of things and had opinions and things I wanted to say, but nobody really took me seriously. But instead of going the teen-angst route and just listening to loud music in my room (although, full disclosure, I did some of that, too), I decided to turn my passions into actions and work toward becoming a Gold Award Girl Scout.
The thing is that I’d always wanted to get more involved in my community, but a lot of people dismissed me as just a kid who didn’t really belong in places of power. But approaching these same people as a Girl Scout working toward my Gold Award gave me legitimacy that I’d never had before. While researching and designing an awareness campaign about child abuse, I noticed that so many adults were listening and really wanted to help me. It was as if something clicked and all of a sudden people took me seriously. I found myself networking with professionals and meeting so many people from across the island who wanted to help in meaningful ways.
The confidence I gained doing this—knowing I had passion, skills,
and valuable ideas that had nothing to do with how I looked—helped
shield me in a way from the teenage self-doubt many other girls my age
were going through, and I’m thankful for that. But it also helped make
my voice stronger and let me know that my voice matters.
The more people I met as a Gold Award Girl Scout, the more opportunities I got to travel, participate in conferences and workshops, and to speak my mind about the issues that mean a lot to me. Eventually, I was invited to speak as a youth delegate to the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts conference in Curaçao, and then through that network I was asked to be one of ten girls from around the world to participate in a body confidence forum sponsored by Dove.
Most recently, I spoke at the United Nations—in a room filled with representatives from some of the most powerful corporations and organizations in the world—on issues around stereotypes, youth culture, and youth activism.
There’s a lot of nerves that go along with the honor and privilege of having the ear of so many influential people. I know that a lot of young women, especially young Latinx women like myself, don’t get to have a voice in these rooms very often or at all. So I’m not going to waste these opportunities. I want to be impactful and direct, but I also feel passionately about using my voice to help create space for even more young people from all kinds of backgrounds.
Bringing a token woman or person of color onto a panel isn’t enough. I know what it feels like to have your voice heard, and I want to make sure more people have that same experience. That’s why after I graduate from Barnard College in 2020, I’m considering getting an MBA so I’ll have the skills necessary to start my own nonprofit or go into corporate social responsibility. I’m excited to help bring meaningful representation to the table and to pass the microphone around.
— Laura Robert Rivera
I started an organization to teach young people about hypertension.
A lot of people can say they have what it takes to identify problems.