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Grace Sinats, winner of the 2021 Flourishing Safe Environments Award

Updated: Jan 26, 2022

“As a young person, I’m constantly told that one day I’m going to change the world, but I wanted to change it right now.”

Fifteen year old Grace Sinats, the 2021 winner of Leadership Victoria’s Flourishing Safe Environments award, is passionate about politics. She is an active figure on the BC political scene, volunteering with the Green Party and organizing climate strikes. In March of 2021, Sinats gave a TEDx talk, where she advocated for lowering the voting age to sixteen.

Sinats’ interest in politics began in the fourth grade, when a teacher encouraged her to write a letter to Elizabeth May, the former leader of the federal Green Party. This led to a meeting with May and a long conversation about climate change. In 2019, the memory of this meeting prompted Sinats to respond to an Instagram post, looking for volunteers for a Green Party campaign. While volunteering, Sinats met other passionate young people and joined the fledgling group Our Earth, Our Future.

Her work on climate change was ultimately what inspired Sinats to give a TEDx talk. As young climate activists, Sinats and her contemporaries raised their concerns directly with provincial politicians, including the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy, John Heyman, and Premier John Horgan. However, when the youths proposed different ways to reach climate targets, their suggestions were met with reluctance. “I couldn’t understand why I felt so silent,” says Sinats, “despite so many opportunities to speak to so many politicians.” It was, Sinats realized, because young people have, at best, an indirect voice in politics. Their involvement is often reliant on the approval of adults.

After seeing a TED talk given by another teenager, Sinats’ began to wonder whether she too could give a talk. She found herself reflecting upon the silence she felt when speaking to politicians. “That silence is what motivated me,” explains Sinats. “I couldn’t stand it anymore.” This led her to the topic of her talk: lowering the voting age, in order to give young people a louder voice.

Sinats spent weeks preparing a draft of her speech. To her surprise, it was shortlisted and she was interviewed by the TEDx organizers. After a tense wait, Sinats was in the car on her way to school when she finally discovered that her talk had been accepted. “I lost it,” she says. “I was freaking out. I did not think it was going to happen until that very moment.”

But Sinats’ hard work had only just begun. After being accepted by the TEDx organizers, Sinats had weekly meetings with her TEDx coach to refine her speech, as well as meetings with the entire Bear Creek Park TEDx team, including the other speakers and coaches. Sinats estimates that she spent hundreds of hours preparing for her eleven minute talk

Sinats’ advice for public speaking is to “Always have a tagline. A phrase that you repeat over and over again, that you really want your audience to understand.” She also recommends making your message accessible. “It’s your job as a speaker or leader to extend that olive branch and make sure you’re being understood. Giving those pathways to people who totally disagree with you – find a way to reach out to them.”

Reflecting upon leadership, Sinats notes that, “One thing I’ve always made a focus of my leadership is to uplift the voices of others who cannot speak as loud as me.” Sinats also highlights the importance of knowing when to take a step back. “A community isn’t just one person, it's thousands and thousands of people. Your voice isn’t always going to be the most important one.”

Looking ahead to the future, Grace Sinats is made hopeful by the growing interest of her peers, many of whom have asked how they too can become politically involved. It has been deeply gratifying, she says, to hear that her TEDx talk has made people contemplate the merits of lowering the voting age. “The fact that I can have that kind of impact really gives me hope,” says Sinats, “because I know that so many other people can have that kind of impact and can have that platform and will be heard.”

You can watch Grace’s TedX talk on Youtube: How young voices build strong democracy | Grace Sinats | TEDxBearCreekPark - YouTube

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