Louise Stephens, Javan Santos, and Bertine Lakjohn at the Youth Climate Activist Speaker Series.
On-screen from left to right: Louise Stephens '07, Bertine Lakjohn '23 and Javan Santos at the Youth Climate Activist Speaker Series on Oct. 27, 2022.

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Photography by Callay Boire-Shedd ’22

Youth climate activists Selina Leem, Javan Santos and Louise Stephens ’07 shared their experiences and expertise with Whitman students as part of the Youth Climate Justice and Activism Speaker Series, relating to this year's Academic Theme—Climate Justice, Climate Action.

The talk was the first of a four-part series organized by the Youth Climate Activism Speaker Series Committee—made up solely of current Whitman students. The series is the first of its kind at Whitman to specifically feature youth climate activists. The goal of this speaker series is to highlight action taken by younger people regionally and globally to better connect with Whitman students interested in making a large-scale difference on climate issues.

"Throughout my four years at Whitman, I've always heard people tell me they support climate activism but question where to start or whether they are capable of making a difference,” says Bertine Lakjohn ’23, lead organizer for the speaker series. “The committee hoped we could provide the answers to those questions by specifically highlighting youth climate activists.”

Leem is a climate justice activist best known as a spoken word performer and poet from the Marshall Islands, an ocean nation threatened by rising sea levels. She credits her late grandfather for her deep awareness of the fate of her homeland. She says she’s “made it her mission to globally raise awareness about the climate crisis.”

Santos is a proud CHamoru—Indigenous to the Pacific island of Guam in the Marianas Islands. Currently, he is a policy manager at Climate Initiative, a non-partisan, solutions-based organization pushing for local, tangible solutions to the climate crisis.

Stephens, the Whitman alum, has a master’s degree from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. She also works for Climate Initiative as the Director of Policy and Impact and has worked on environmental issues throughout her career.

Leading By Example

Leem, Santos and Stephens each spoke about what climate justice means to them, how it fits into their work, and how important it is to take climate action regardless of one’s age or experience.

“There is room for everybody to bring their unique skills to the climate movement,” says Santos.

Selina LeemStudents in the audience listened with rapt attention, eager to hear how young people have influenced the climate movement. At just 18, Leem was the youngest delegate at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. She delivered the closing statement for her country alongside the Marshall Island's Foreign Minister Tony deBrum. Leem also was a featured TED speaker at the 2021 TED Countdown Summit.

According to Leem, “This is what we live with so it should be what we fight for."

Santos shared that his work as a youth representative in the Guam Youth Congress led to the passing of a plastic bag ban into law. Stephens recalled setting the conservation strategy at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga and conducting sustainability research for Walt Disney World. She also worked with Manta Consulting and IMPACTS Research & Development. All three speakers shared examples of other youth climate activists they’ve known or worked with, offered tips on staying hopeful and asked the audience to join the movement of climate activism.

Continuing to Fight for Change

The next event in the series is planned for early December. Visit the Academic Theme Website for information and follow them on Instagram @whitman.academictheme for details on future events.