I sometimes wish I had more courage. Maybe it would help me speak up instead of turning away, or help me confront how I feel when I know it may be difficult. I wish I had more courage – particularly in the face of adversity.

Telling one person something they don’t want to hear is difficult enough. No one likes delivering bad news, no matter how predictable said news may be. Now, imagine standing alone, in front of differing news outlets and world leaders, sharing information that they may be familiar with but nevertheless is not easy to swallow. That takes someone with courage and a desire to bring change far beyond what most are capable of – no matter their age, background or particular beliefs regarding an issue.

To me, activist Greta Thunberg is that champion of courage.

The Swedish 16-year-old has been an active advocate for the climate, beginning with her standing alone outside the Swedish Parliament in 2018. Since then Thunberg has been a vocal leader of the climate change movement, meeting with various world leaders, including former President Barack Obama in recent weeks, discussing the importance of dedicating national and international efforts towards stalling human impact on our environment.

If a single individual like Thunberg can make a change, so can we.

I used to feel, and still do at times, like I am but a single voice and actor and therefore my thoughts and actions can only make a minute impact. How can I, as one person, make a difference in my day-to-day? How can I push for change, and back my opinions with action when I sometimes fail to speak up and out? Could I as a single person have the bravery to sit outside parliament, or the equivalent of such here on campus, alone, asking for something or pushing for change in such a daunting environment?

This past Friday, people around the globe walked out of classrooms and gathered in town centers, streets and squares pushing for change with painted signs and exasperated voices. Millions reportedly responded to the call, with outlets noting this to potentially be one of the largest climate protests in history. This action was something that Thunberg individually called for in her own right over a year ago – standing alone with her cardboard sign asking fellow students to join her in striking to bring attention to the nature of our environment.

If Thunberg can do it, so can we.

And the thing is, there are numerous young activists that have already answered respective calls to action. Sophie Cruz, at only five years old, handed a letter to the Pope, voicing her fears of ICE, due to the immigration status of her parents. Sophie since then has spoken out in favor of immigration reform, meeting with Obama and speaking in front of audiences including the Supreme Court and those gathered at the Women’s March on Washington. She is now eight. 

If they can, so can I. 

I challenge myself to be more courageous. Courage means various things to different people. It could be introducing ourselves to someone new, trying something that scares us or simply giving ourselves a break. Courage is a little different to all of us – but the common thread is that courage can catalyze change in whatever form it may take.

As we go into the year, I want to not only stand up, but stand out for things I believe in. I am going to push myself to not just say, but actually do something about how I feel. Whether it be joining a new organization, participating in events for my current commitments or seeking out groups championing things I believe in, I want to dedicate my energies without fear or apprehension of being the first to stand out or stand alone.

Do you think the first person to decide to speak up against something was scared? Do you think Thunberg experienced some form of hesitation or doubt regarding her push for strikes and school walkouts? Without knowing personally, I would make an educated guess, that yes, they probably were. And that is what makes us human. But those who have championed movements — whether local or global — are also human. They have most likely been filled with the same reservations that we all face daily.

We can all take a page out of the books of those like Thunberg, the person who raises their hand in the large lecture or the one who starts an organization on campus because it stands for something they believe in. I will try to be. And maybe, with time, my actions will drown out the voices we are all so accustomed to hearing – the doubt that just because we are one person we cannot make a difference.

Samantha Szuhaj can be reached at szuhajs@umich.edu.

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