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Aug 30 2017
by Jackie O'Neil

One Stanford 2021 Student's Unique Political Push for Change

By Jackie O'Neil - Aug 30 2017
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With an effortlessly cool composure and a speaking style articulate beyond his years, it’s easy to imagine that Sam Gorman came into the world poised to be an activist leader. And for the past two years as a high school upperclassman, he’s played right into the role. Not only has he coordinated the inaugural Youth Political Activism Day in Burbank, California, but he has practiced what he preaches by founding a nonprofit, Peerlift, aimed at increasing opportunity and equity in the education system.

But Sam says this wasn’t always the case – in fact, he first became interested in political activism as a way to fill the gap after dropping soccer, track and cross country. "I looked for a new outlet to invest that sort of time and energy into, and activism hit the spot,” he told me in an exclusive interview. Sam channeled his drive into political initiatives, wasting no time in organizing his own. His personal favorite endeavor? Getting “ half of [his] school to opt out of state-sponsored tests in protest of [their] education system.”

So, what drove Sam to take on the daunting task of organizing Youth Political Activism Day, an event aimed at exposing students to political activists and activism itself? As Sam recounts, it was a fortuitous meeting with Alec Zbornak, a former intern for Congressman Adam Schiff, the Congressman for whom Sam was interning at the time.

“We started talking and getting worked up about the sort of issues facing our peers today: unequal access to education, [and] skyrocketing college tuition, to name a few. We thought it would be incredibly valuable to host an event where fellow students could voice their opinions and learn exactly what they could do in their community to make political change.”

Sam and Alec, who co-coordinated the conference, hit an issue close to home for college students and young people in the U.S.: the lack of youth participation in government and politics is stripping our generation of a voice. “Our government doesn’t reflect the people it serves,” Sam bemoans. “Less than 20 percent of Congress is female. It’s ridiculous. People of color are egregiously underrepresented as well. America is not a country comprised solely of rich, older, white males. [Our] future is diverse, young, and vibrant. We just have to take that same energy to the polls and to the streets to craft the sort of government we deserve.”

So what can Generation Z do to get involved on their campuses and in their communities? Sam has a few suggestions: “Start a club for an issue you care about strongly. An environmental club, a coalition to end homelessness – surprise me.” He continues: “If there was ever a time to be politically active, it’s now. If there was ever a time to be young, or to be disconnected from the current political elite, it’s now. Our country needs ambitious individuals outside of the system who fight for what they believe in. Our climate won’t wait. Our broken criminal justice system won’t wait. You shouldn’t either.”

Sam certainly hasn’t waited, leaping to the occasion to found Peerlift, a nonprofit aimed at “making access to opportunities for college must faster and fairer for low- and middle-income students.” His inspiration for Peerlift is tied intrinsically to his work with political activism, both centered around the same concept, opportunity. “Those with access to higher-level opportunities go to higher-level schools, gain access to higher-level networks, influence, and eventually, jobs, while everybody else is left in the dust,” Sam explains. Peerlift combats this growing gap by curating affordable and valuable college-related resources and opportunities and sharing them online, for free, at peerlift.org.

It’s clear that Sam doesn’t see his age or relative inexperience as any significant barrier to his activism. So when I asked why it’s important that young people get involved in politics and activism, Sam snaps back with a question of his own, a mantra emblematic of his drive to make the world a better place: “If you don’t fight for what you’re passionate about right now, who will?”


Lead Image Credit: Sam Gorman

Author's Note: Special thanks to Sam Gorman, Stanford Class of 2021, for his help and cooperation in crafting this article. You can access Sam's 501(c)(3), Peerlift, at their website or on Facebook.

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Jackie O'Neil - Stanford University

Jackie O'Neil is a freshman at Stanford University passionate about politics, constitutional law, and cookie dough. To keep up with Jackie's shower thoughts, The West Wing references, and brunch photos, follow her on Twitter at @_jackieoneil or on Instagram at @jackieoneil

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