Riya Kataria, 16

Riya Kataria, from Fremont, California, spoke her first words at 6 months of age. She discovered the word “revolution” at the age of 5. She notes that from that moment, she knew it was up to the youth to start a revolution. Kataria competes in numerous state and national speech and debate competitions and has always been in awe of the power of words. Kataria is a peer-resource and proponent of voice amplification and founded Picket Fence Academy, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to bringing the best public speaking education to elementary and middle school students to encourage youth to make their voices heard. She is also the president of the student coalition StudentsRise, which is fighting for educational reform, starting from the working conditions that teachers face.

Kataria attributes her affinity and advocacy for writing to her childhood in a household that encouraged curiosity and the literary arts. Though she is mainly a poet and a novelist, Kataria has discovered the importance of political writing in the last few years. Kataria points out we are scared of alienation so we do not talk and utilize the power of words. Instead, we copy and paste social media statuses and links instead of intentionally creating meaningful change because we are terrified of deviating from familiarity. While this fear is real, it is misplaced. Kataria believes that the fear must be shifted to a fear of complacency, and the recognition that if nobody speaks up, the world will never change.

Kataria hopes to attend the University of Chicago after graduation, with a major in Political Science. She plans to earn her law degree, with an emphasis in civil rights law and ultimately wants to earn a representative role in the executive branch of our government. Her biggest goal? To be the youngest senator in history at the age of 26.