February 20, 2015
You know those teens who do so many amazing things before graduating high school that make you think, "Wow, they are way cooler than me, and half my age. What am I doing wrong?" Nikki Adeli is one of those teens.
Adeli was born in Mississippi to Iranian immigrant parents who moved to the U.S. with dreams of a brighter future. In sixth grade, Adeli convinced her mother to move her to Philadelphia, where her sister was going to college, from her small hometown.
In the few years since her arrival Adeli has already made waves. Her TEDxPhiladelphia 2014 talk, "What Standardized Tests Don't Measure," earned a standing ovation; she's a Youth Commissioner to Mayor Michael Nutter and Head Concierge for the EduCon Conference; she's featured on 900AM WURD's "Youth WURDs" Power Hour (Wednesdays from 7-8 p.m.); and this fall she was named to the Board of Directors for Student Voice, the student-run nonprofit promoting youth involvement in education.
Now an 18-year-old high school senior at the Science Leadership Academy, Adeli spends her time advocating for youth education and tearing down preconceived notions of what teens are capable of.
What’s your favorite part about participating in your many leadership roles?
My favorite part is the commonality between all the roles that I hold; that they all revolve around youth empowerment. Not only do these roles allow for me to empower my own voice, but it also allows me to use my voice to lift up other young people and students, in the classroom and in their community.
How do you juggle all of your responsibilities?
My mother was the first person who really introduced the importance of time management to me my 10th grade year. Ever since then, I’ve had colored coded schedules and a lot more time for me to train for the Ultimate Frisbee season!
In your TED talk you said our schools often focus too much on competition and standardized testing and not enough on turning students into citizens and leaders. How can teenagers engage with education systems to make sure they are getting the education they deserve?
The most important thing for students to realize is that they have the capability to be the leaders of today, not always the “leaders of tomorrow” like many people say. When I came to this realization, the first thing I turned to were my resources to accomplish this. If other teenagers also make this realization and look to see what resources they have and don’t have, they will be able to make proper requests and demands so that they get the resources and education that they deserve.
You've been pursuing a resolution that would allow Philadelphia students to intern or volunteer during the school week. Why do you believe these opportunities are so important for students?
This is one of the most exciting projects I’m currently working on! I’m currently linking high school students, from around Philadelphia, with small businesses. This not only provides students with the opportunity to intern with small businesses that suit an interest of theirs but also, this promotes local commerce, which is crucial, due to the fact that Philadelphia is named one of the worst cities for small businesses.
Do you plan to continue advocating for education when you graduate from SLA?
Most definitely! I’m looking at a lot of colleges that offer strong public policy and political science programs that will help incorporate a lot of the advocacy work I do into my studies, which is important for me. Wherever college takes me I want to be able to have a strong connection to the surrounding community, which I am studying in, by supporting public education.
Do you have any college plans that you can share with us?
None yet, but hopefully soon! I’m in the grueling waiting stages of admission and, more importantly aid. A concern for a lot of students my age is the price tag on higher education and because of the price, many see college as a luxury more than a necessity, which I think is unfortunate.
What is the biggest challenge you've overcome as a young leader?
I think the biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is the negative mentality a lot of Philadelphians have regarding young people. I think it’s due to a lot of the media coverage (i.e. flash mobs, lack of funding for schools) that lowers the expected standards for students. However, I believe if any adult who thinks this way actually took the time to talk to a young person about their aspirations and passions, the way my mentors have done for me, they would be blown away. My generation is very talented and there’s so much untapped potential that I wish more people would invest in.
What do you like to do in your free time?
Most of the time you can find me playing Ultimate Frisbee, preparing for a school debate, or catching up on TV shows like "House of Cards."
What or who inspires you most?
I’m inspired by my parents. My parents were very young when they left Iran. They came to a foreign country seeking a better education for themselves and also, later to come, for me and my sister. My parents taking that huge leap of faith inspires me to never give up and pursue all of my interests to the fullest.
What does being a fearless leader mean to you?
A fearless leader to me is a leader who has a vision that they are determined to work towards, even if along the way they might not satisfy others. They care for others but don’t let others stop them in their path to create social change for the long term. Fearless leaders are confident in their moral compass and know they are going in the right direction. A fearless leader is bold where others are cautious.