Teenagers are ready to speak out about some of the most pressing issues in this valley.
They’ll be onstage at the Jackson Unheard conference, which starts at 6:30 tonight at the Center for the Arts. Tickets cost $10.
The night is Jackson Hole Community School senior Thomas Mercer’s capstone project. Mercer turned his curiosity and eye for what’s happening in his hometown into an opportunity for young people to share their ideas with the community.
“I saw there were some problems in Jackson,” Mercer said. “I love Jackson, don’t get me wrong, but there are definitely things we could be working on.”
Those issues include mental health, plastic waste, integrating the Latino community and more.
Mercer’s senior project at the Jackson Hole Community School, he said, presented the perfect opportunity to take action.
“I knew I wanted to make an impact,” he said, but “traditional means of going through government policies and that kind of stuff didn’t seem to really be fitting for these problems. I wanted to talk to the public about it and have them hear from youth about what the future of Jackson should look like.
“I was looking to make a difference in a way that was impactful and that people could take to heart.”
Mercer’s guiding inspiration throughout the process comes from a local leader in his hometown, the Tri-Cities, Washington. Scientist Fred Raab is the head of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO — a physics lab in Hanford, Washington. A quote of his on a wall at the Reach Museum of regional history, geology, science and technology reads, “In the long view, the treasures of a community are stored in the dreams of its children and in the sustainable bounty of its land.”
Mercer decided to name the event Jackson Unheard “because it’s all about envisioning Jackson in a way that we haven’t envisioned it before and hearing about new ideas and perspectives.”
He said he’s “really proud” of the speakers. He gathered them by asking anyone and everyone if they knew people who wanted to make a difference in the community and went from there. The six student speakers he settled on bring a variety of backgrounds, personal experiences and passions to the evening.
Isaac Grossman, a senior at the Community School, will speak about the polarization of politics and share his perspective as the son of political candidate Judd Grossman. Deyna Lira Hernandez, a rising freshman at Jackson Hole High School, will speak about the Latino population in Jackson as the daughter of immigrants in the workforce. Elise Malterre, a senior at One Stone in Boise, Idaho, will discuss innovative education and the importance of student initiative within the education system. Millie Peck, a senior at Jackson Hole High School, will speak about mental health and how Jackson’s approach to it needs to change. She’ll touch on her own journey with mental health and discuss studies on anxiety and depression rates in resort towns. Steven Schepman will look at Wyoming’s blockchain industry, renewable energy and land as a precious resource. Sienna Taylor, who organized a student climate strike earlier this year, will talk about plastic waste.
“They do have some amazing perspectives that I think aren’t heard in this community,” Mercer said.
Mercer acknowledged that lots of experts — adults — are trying to tackle these issues. But he still feels that teenagers and students should have a place at the table to find solutions.
“I don’t think the presence of all those professionals negates what the youth have to say,” he said. “The future is theirs and their voice matters.”
Mercer will take a gap year to travel to Latin America and Europe before attending the University of Southern California next fall. ￼