Young Adult Forum kicks off in Aspen

Jun 30, 2016

Young adults from across the globe gathered in the St. Regis ballroom earlier this week for the first ever program aimed at igniting a segment of the population to become more involved in the world. It’s part of the Aspen Ideas Festival, and is geared to those between 14 to 21 years old.



On Monday, an emcee somehow was able to get a young crowd of around 250 people energized enough about an afternoon of performances, lectures and discussions.

The speakers, there were 15 total, ranged from award-winning poets to an Afghan female rapper to a former acting solicitor general for the United States and even Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

The diversity in speakers played into the mission of the forum, which was to empower a group of young people to engage in solving the critical issues of the day. You know, like, the burden of student loans, prison reform, women’s equality. You get the idea.

Tullis Burrows, 14, grew up in Aspen. He said the afternoon gave him a lot of confidence in his generation.

“I thought it kind of showed how our generation is willing to tackle some of the issues that previous generations have kind of been walking around and not really willing to get involved in,” Burrows said.

This three and a half hour seminar is part of a larger effort by the Aspen Institute that started about a year ago when Walter Isaacson, the CEO, said there needed to be a focus in the organization based on youth and engagement.

Rajiv Vinnakota is the executive vice president at the Aspen Institute for youth and engagement programs. To get this new initiative off the ground, Vinnakota and his team knew it was vital to have a component of youth engagement at one of the Institute’s signature events of the year: the Aspen Ideas Festival.

“The division is looking at working with young people in a direct way, everything from leadership development to increasing civic engagement to fostering the youth voice and youth agency,” Vinnakota said.


The diversity of the crowd in the ballroom was palpable to anyone who entered. Many of the youth in the room were brought here on scholarships from the Aspen Institute.

“To be able to fund all of these young people, from very diverse sets of backgrounds, to be able to come is why we are blessed to be able to have such a nice diversity of youth,” Vinnakota said.

Aspen resident Chloe Brettmann, 14, said she loves seeing how different the speakers are and how they are trying to make positive change in the world.

“They’re using all sorts of different methods to promote world peace and to find resolutions to issues,” Brettmann said. “It just showed that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.”

And for De’John Hardges, a 17-year-old from Cleveland, the afternoon was very inspiring.

“Now I understand that growth is key and if I really want to become someone and actually do something with my life that I need to grow,” Hardges said.

The Young Adult Forum will be back next year for Aspen Ideas Festival 2017.