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Barton Lecture speaker renounces “teen apathy”

Shane Feldman has a knack for motivating his fellow teens.

Just shy of 20, he holds the record for having organized the largest teen-planned event ever. His organization, Count Me In, inspires youth to volunteer — and its first global broadcast last April packed Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts to capacity while more than 2.2 million tuned in from 60 countries.

“Strive to live with passion,” said this year’s annual Barton Lecture speaker to Upper School students on Oct. 6 in Laidlaw Hall.

Feldman shared stories of how the transition to Grade 9 in a new high school in Vaughan, Ont. where he knew no one triggered a profound sense of alienation and subsequent depression. After a guidance counsellor discouraged him from transferring schools, he dreamed up the idea of an organization to counter “teen apathy,” specifically to drum up engagement for community action. Count Me In is now the largest youth-led organization in North America, connecting more than three million youth with community opportunities and causes matching their interests.

Feldman offered the audience a series of five “hash tag” pointers to achieve one’s potential. For example, #refusetoquit was a story of Donald Trump acting as the improbable fairy godmother to a would-be opera singer who was a friend of Feldman. The driven youth decided to go to New York and bring coffee to Trump’s assistant with the hopes of securing a moment with “The Donald” and urging him to help him get into the legendary Julliard School. After five days of refusals, the assistant softened and the persistent teen sang for Trump. Strings were pulled and tuition was paid.

“True story,” said Feldman.

Another highlight was #cleanyourroom. Feldman’s mom apparently means business. After she repeatedly told him to clean his room, he came home one day to an empty bedroom. His mom had thrown all his stuff out.

“I learned that it’s not enough to set goals,” Feldman said. “You have to follow through.”