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YMG students’ public speaking complements their publishing success. We may be available for your next meeting!

By Jayne O'Donnell

She was one of two of our Washington, D.C. students to lose close friends to gunfire in April 2020. As the Washington Post reported, it happened during one week at the pandemic’s start while they were both reporting for Youthcast Media Group® about mental health. 

After her close friend and classmate was killed near her school, then-high school junior Heaven Pete was too devastated to talk to Post columnist Petula Dvorak. But when psychologist Ben Miller, then of the Well Being Trust, invited me and a student to join a national webinar about Covid and mental health, I couldn’t resist asking Heaven to join. No pressure. Just an offer to tell nearly 800 people what she and her peers were experiencing during the pandemic. 

She nervously agreed — and dazzled us all. 

When we talk and think about giving our high school students and college interns a “voice” in their communities, YMG is typically referring to their journalism — published in local and national media outlets — or their social media posts. I’m starting to think their public appearances are just as important. 

Some of our students have gotten applause — standing ovations, even — when they simply posed questions at conferences. I’m awed and so proud of their confidence and relish the chance for them to show others their incredible potential. 

And I’m not alone. Teens and 20-somethings surprise us older folks when, seemingly effortlessly, they take the mic and speak at professional conferences. Clearly, we all need to be hearing more from this generation — and to keep preparing them to show the professional world just what they can do.

And, well, we’ve been on fire with our speaking engagements!


  • On April 11, YMG college interns Hermes Falcon and Aabrielle Spear will join me on a panel at Kaiser Permanente’s Health Action Summit in Washington, D.C. (Catch the live stream here.) We’ll discuss YMG’s coverage of health and safety disparities and solutions in our students’ communities, along with the importance of diversity and nonprofit support of journalism. We’ll be joined by Romina Ruiz-Goiriena, USA TODAY’s White House editor and Lee Hawkins, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who is now a special correspondent and executive producer at American Public Media. Other speakers that day include, ahem, Mandy Cohen, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra.

  • April 12, two of my YMG colleagues — Data Visualization Specialist and Instructor Pooja Singh and mentor-editor Petruce Jean-Charles — will present with me at the DC-Maryland Scholastic Press Association’s Journalism Day at my alma mater, University of Maryland’s College of Journalism. Pooja will give an overview of our Canva curriculum, which teaches students how to create compelling graphics for social media and articles. Petruce will discuss our new training in CapCut editing for social media videos. 

  • May 20, Hermes and I will both be presenting at the Ohio Department of Transportation’s Traffic Safety Summit; me about how to keep the media interested in distracted driving and Hermes on how to keep young people paying attention, literally. 

Hermes, a junior at Bradley University in Peoria who has worked with us since the fall of 2020, is especially well-prepared for the presentations. He’s a former member of Bradley’s highly-ranked speech team who represented YMG at a September panel marking the one-year anniversary of the crisis hotline 988. There, he joined Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor and the director of HHS’ 988 office. 

A screenshot from a livestream featuring YMG intern Hermes Falcon speaking on a St. Louis panel about 988.
YMG intern Hermes Falcon speaks on a St. Louis panel marking the one-year anniversary of 988's launch.

Hermes says he discussed his work with YMG to publicize 988 and what his hopes - as a young person with mental illness - are for the future of the crisis hotline. The St. Louis event, Hermes said, showed him that people not only care about 988 and mental health, they really “care about teens' mental health and what the youth have to say about the mental healthcare system and how we can make changes for the better.”

“It felt so amazing and rewarding sitting up on the panel with people who have made a difference in their communities,” said Hermes. “Being able to attend the 988 panel felt like all my hard work throughout the years had finally paid off.”

Indeed it has. 

As for Heaven, who is now finishing her junior year at Georgia State University, she interviewed therapists and other mental health and trauma experts during a workshop on structural racism in health care and a summer internship in high school. 

“That got me sooo interested in mental health, especially in the Black community, that I’m now majoring in psychology and on the pre-med track,” she said in a video she recorded for us. 

I — most certainly — couldn’t have summed it up better myself. 


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