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How Gen Z Sees the Future: 13 Quotes

Generations are often defined not simply by the world events that take place during their formative years, but how members of that generation respond to those changes and challenges. Gen Z, loosely defined as those born between 1997 and 2012, arrived in a fraught present, yet as a generation, today’s youth has shown an impressive amount of creativity, leadership, and resilience. This newest generation to come into adulthood follows Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996), Gen X (1965 to 1980), and Baby Boomers (1946 and 1964).  

Members of Gen Z are often categorized by their proximity to technology; these digital natives have never known a world before the internet, smartphones, or social media, for better and for worse. But, partially as a result of this hyperconnectivity, Gen Zers are also exceptionally socially engaged, politically active, and innovative, often taking the initiative to dream up and actualize new realities in place of outdated or harmful norms.

Already, it’s evident that creative problem-solving and social activism are hallmarks of this young generation. True diversity and inclusivity matter a whole lot to Gen Zers, as does social equity, climate justice, and holding companies accountable by voting with your wallet. Below, we’ve rounded up 13 powerful quotes from some influential Gen Z voices, young leaders who are busy blazing a path into the future.

There are still people who are afraid of successful women, and that’s so lame. What’s the point of pleasing other people? You’ve got to get out and change the world, and we’re the generation that’s going to step into that.
— Billie Eilish

Pop star Billie Eilish is redefining the genre just by being herself. The singer was just 14 years old when she uploaded her first song, “Ocean Eyes,” to SoundCloud in 2016, setting the music world abuzz with her ethereal voice, neo-goth aesthetic, and mature-beyond-her-years lyrics. She also self-produced her debut album, When We Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, in her bedroom with her brother Finneas, which went on to win the four biggest Grammys awards the following year, including album of the year.

We realize the importance of our voices only when we are silenced.
— Malala Yousafzai

Not many people can claim the sorts of accomplishments that Malala Yousafzai achieved before her 25th birthday. But then again, not many people have had the same dogged dedication to education as a human right. Malala was an activist from an early age in her home country of Pakistan, advocating for women’s rights to education. In 2012, she was shot in the head during an assassination attempt, but the fierce young woman pulled through, and went on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

There isn’t a specific notion, or jean size, or muscle shirt, or affectation, or eyebrow raise, or dissolution, or drug use that you have to take part in to be masculine. It’s exciting. It’s a brave new world.
— Timothée Chalamet

Both on the big-screen and off, Timothée Chalamet has been challenging the reigning definitions of masculinity. The actor, who first made waves with his starring role in 2017’s Call Me By Your Name, was heralded by Vogue in 2019 as one of the most influential men in fashion. The good-natured heartthrob has also had roles in such talked-about films as Dune, Little Women, Interstellar, The French Dispatch, and Don’t Look Up, and is set to portray Bob Dylan in an upcoming biopic, as well as a young Willy Wonka in the musical film Wonka.

Don't try so hard to fit in, and certainly don't try so hard to be different. Just try hard to be you.
— Zendaya

Zendaya has emerged as one of Gen Z’s most compelling stars. The talented actress oscillates between teen angst in the HBO drama Euphoria and more grown-up fare in the black-and-white romantic flick Malcolm and Marie, while also lending her voice and likeness to countless charities and organizations that encourage people to get involved and to get loud. She has used her star power to raise funds for hurricane relief efforts, women empowerment initiatives, and calls for racial justice. She is also a voting rights activist and has taken part in ventures meant to stop bullying. In short, she is the change she wants to see in the world, and her example has inspired many.

There is hope — I’ve seen it — but it does not come from the governments or corporations, it comes from the people.
— Greta Thunberg

The climate crisis is one that weighs heavily on Gen Zers, who are coming of age at a time when the planet is badly hurting. Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish activist, has been a figurehead in the movement to bring awareness and action to mitigate climate change, and her leadership and determination have inspired countless other young people to get involved in both local and global efforts. The teenage activist has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize three years in a row — all before the age of 20.

We're so much more alike than we are different. At the core of it all, we're all feeling the same feelings of fear and sadness and loneliness and happiness and love.
— Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo first burst onto the scene the way many young hopefuls before her have: via the Disney Channel, playing Paige Olvera on the hit series Bizaardvark, and then Nin Salazar-Roberts on High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. But it was when she released her debut single “Drivers License” in early 2021 (she had previously penned a song “All I Want” for the Bizaardvark soundtrack), that her star really began to rise. The single, which was released in early January, when Rodrigo was just 18, went on to break Spotify’s record twice for the most daily streams ever, and debuted at number one on Billboard’s Hot 100; Rodrigo became a bonafide role model and was soon invited to the White House to help in efforts to get the nation vaccinated against COVID-19.

I never saw a little African American girl saving the world. So to be able to be that for not only myself but girls who look like me is really important and inspiring.
— Storm Reid, actress

Representation matters. Storm Reid, who was born and raised in Atlanta, began her acting career before the age of 10 with her first big-screen role in 12 Years a Slave in 2013. It wasn’t until her starring role in the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, however, that Reid really made a name for herself, inspiring young Black girls everywhere with her unapologetically sunny attitude. She has since starred in such TV series and films as Euphoria, Don’t Let Go, and The Invisible Man.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.
— Amanda Gorman, poet and activist

Amanda Gorman entered the public consciousness on January 20, 2021, when she made history as the youngest poet to ever perform at a presidential inauguration. She recited her poignant original poem “The Hill We Climb,” which addresses the many uphill battles the U.S. has faced as a nation since its founding, with a focus on how the power of the individual can help to incite hope amid hard times. Since then, she’s been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people, has graced the cover of Vogue, published two books, and co-hosted the prestigious Met gala.

If you accept yourself, then you'll find that others will accept you as well.
— Jazz Jennings, TV personality and LGBTQ+ activist

In 2007, at the age of six, Jazz Jennings made her first TV appearances on 20/20 and The Rosie Show, making her one of the youngest public figures to come out as transgender. She and her family have been active advocates for transgender youth, founding TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation that same year. Since then, the Jennings have starred on the reality series I Am Jazz, and Jazz has penned a children’s book and a memoir, and acted as a spokesperson for various national campaigns.

If it is something that you are interested in, and it is your passion, then tell your friends, because help is the best thing. If you stay confident, it will happen.
— Marsai Martin, actress

Age is just a number, according to Marsai Martin. The young actress, who got her start on ABC’s hit sitcom Black-ish, opposite the likes of Yara Shahidi and Tracee Ellis Ross, already has her sights set on directing, producing, and more. The Texas native also starred in and executive produced the 2019 film Little at the tender age of 15. Martin’s ambitions and attitude make her one to watch.

My generation took this invention [social media] and turned it into a social benefit. The lesson in that is to work with what is available to you, communicate, ask questions, and execute your agenda for progressive change by any means necessary. We are resilient, resourceful, and driven.
— Eva Maria Lewis, activist

Social media activism sometimes gets a bad rap, referring to folks who repost memes but don’t actually want to get their hands dirty. Not so for Eva Maria Lewis, the founder of The I Project, who has taken social media by storm with her commitment to create a platform that celebrates art and its power to create lasting social change. As she has said, “Activism means progress by any means necessary.”

Don’t be so preoccupied with showing up that you fail to be present.
— Blair Imani, activist

A big cornerstone of Gen Z activism is intersectionality: making sure that no matter what cause we’re fighting for, we’re taking the time to recognize how to make that progress inclusive. Blair Imani, a Brooklyn-based activist, is a major champion for intersectionality in every cause she promotes, from LGBTQ+ rights to Black Lives Matter. As a Black, bisexual, Muslim woman, Imani takes to heart her responsibility in considering a multitude of lived experiences and perspectives in her role as the founder of Equality for Her, a nonprofit educational platform for women and nonbinary people.

When something becomes a norm, there’s got to be something new.
— Luka Sabbat, model and cultural influencer

Gen Z isn’t into newness for newness’ sake, but members of the generation do constantly have their eyes and ears out for ways to do things more intentionally and with some creative, risk-taking flair. Luka Sabbat may be just 24 years old, but he’s already been dubbed a Kanye West protege with the sort of unique vision that could change the world of fashion, culture, and beyond. Or as he put it to Dazed magazine, “I find it exciting, I also find it interesting, I always think: ‘When is the bubble going to pop?’”

Photo credit: Robert Smith / Contributor/ via Getty Images

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About the Author
Joyce Chen
Joyce Chen is a writer, editor, and community builder based in Seattle, Washington.
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