Adora Svitak, 16, will speak on youth voices that drive social change at Infocom on Saturday. (Sayantan Ghosh)
On the flight from Seattle to India, she finished reading two books — Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, set in World War II times, and Consuming Grief by Beth A. Conklin, an anthropological study of cannibalism in South America. Little wonder then that she is herself the author of three books, with a fourth on the way.
But then Adora Svitak is a little wonder, for she is all of 16. She started reading at age three and became a published author at age seven with Flying Fingers, a book of short stories that contains tips for aspiring writers as well. The same year, Adora started teaching schoolchildren.
The high-schooler from Seattle, often called a child prodigy and the brightest kid in the world, is in town to speak at Infocom, the ABP Group’s information and communication technology conclave at ITC Sonar. “My speech is on ‘Keeping up with the young and the extraordinary.’ It’ll be about young people’s innovations, what large companies have to learn from them and how they can attract young talent,” she told Metro.
“I hope to make them realise that my generation has a lot of important things to say,” she added with a soft smile, giving the example of SnapChat, a photo messaging application developed by Stanford University students that has attracted a $3bn offer from Facebook.
At first glance, Adora seems like a sweet-natured American teenager who enjoys going on hikes, listening to the rapper Macklemore and can’t wait for the second Hobbit movie. But talk to her a bit more and wisdom beyond her years spills forth.
“I do wear a lot of hats and sometimes people get confused with all that I do but one thing that I am extraordinarily passionate about is furthering women’s rights. I think it’s something that’s incredibly important not just for girls everywhere but also boys to get involved in. Girls’ education and women’s rights — I think this is something that’s going to stay with me throughout my life.”
Adora champions the youth voice and promotes the joys of reading and writing among youngsters. “Students read for tests and because their parents ask them to but I think it’s very important to tell children that you can read for fun too and to understand human spirit. It builds empathy.”
Then comes her teaching. She has been teaching classrooms in some 500 schools via video link since she was nine. “I talk to students on reading, writing, health and leadership. I also speak to teachers about how to inspire students.”
But how does she know all this? “Reading has been helpful but also many of my presentations aren’t just about grammar or how to write a sentence, they have a very large inspirational component as well. Why teachers wanted to have me teach those kids was also because I was saying, ‘Hey, I’m your age, let’s work together, let’s have fun with this.”
Though she is today travelling the world, talking, teaching and inspiring, Adora says her parents do a very good job of keeping her grounded.
“I never felt any different from other kids. The only time I felt I was different was when one of my friends said, ‘I hate reading’ and I stared at her like what kind of an alien creature are you?! Because it was so incomprehensible to me that someone could dislike reading! That really started my desire to help other children love reading and writing. But I don’t think of me being so much ‘different’ as opportunities I have had and working hard.”
Her mother Joyce, who travels with her and manages her engagements, echoes her on that. “There are many kids who are smart. She’s here because of the opportunities she has received and because she works very hard to fulfil those commitments. She has been keeping up her promise,” beamed the happy mom, who grew up in China without access to books .
According to some reports, Adora’s mental age is 50 to 60 years. “It was one of those fun tests that you take online, it’s not scientific but yes, it was pretty interesting,” Adora laughed. She’s not taken an IQ test and doesn’t want to, because “there’s more to life than intelligence and honestly, I have spent so much of my high school taking tests that I’m not especially eager to take another one!”
Adora’s next book is a work of non-fiction. “I am writing to make sure that kids don’t lose very important traits like curiosity that can drive social change because oftentimes I think parents emphasise more on doing well in school, which is important, but perhaps that sometimes comes at the cost of a child’s natural curiosity.”
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