Grace Wong is a high school senior living from Portland, Oregon. An avid content creator, she contributes to The Huffington Post, MTV, Political Storm, Girls’ Globe, and the UN Foundation blog. Believing wholeheartedly in the power and necessity of equality, empathy and kindness, Grace has undertaken myriad initiatives related to women’s empowerment, including serving as a Teen Advisor for the United Nations Foundation’s Girl Up Campaign, traveling to Rwanda with the U.S. Department of State, and using her various writing platforms to shed light on the issues of women and girls. Grace has worked with the UN Association of America to increase youth and young professional engagement in international affairs, and was named one of the UN Association of America’s writing fellows.
You are a Contributor to many online platforms, including The Huffington Post, MTV, Political Storm, Girls’ Globe, and the UN Foundation blog. In your opinion, why is blogging crucial to effecting social impact?
Grace Wong: In the age of digital technology, we all can have a voice on the issues we care about. Traditional news media does not usually feature 17-year-old girls, but in having the blogger platform, I make that space for myself. For all the sites I write for, I try to give voice to issues I care about like girls in developing countries, and teen voices in politics. It’s also super fun to connect with other bloggers and activists through the blogger-sphere.
In 2015-2016, you also served as a Teen Advisor for the United Nations’ Girl Up Campaign, started a Girl Up club at your high school, and currently serve as the Oregon Coalition leader. How did you first get involved with Girl Up and can you share some of your experiences in these roles?
Grace Wong: The spring of my sophomore year, I literally met Khalida Brohi on accident while she was speaking in Portland, and she mentioned Girl Up, and I was like woah what is that? I soon started a club at my high school and worked to bringing awareness on international girls’ issues to the surface. Things really exploded after that as I went from spreading the word about Girl Up in my community, connecting with other Portland Girl Up supporters, and then getting involved with the campaign on the national scale as a Teen Advisor.
Girl Up has given me the most incredible gift of a super rad community of girls, and has empowered me to be self-assured in my beliefs and voicing those beliefs. I would not be half the woman I am today without Girl Up. And I can’t wait to mentor, work with, and support all the girls part of the Girl Up community, it’s truly a one-of-a-kind place.
Two summers ago, you traveled to Rwanda with the US Department of State to promote women in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics). What did this initiative entail, and what were some of your biggest takeaways from it?
Grace Wong: WiSci (Women in Science), which was part of the launch of Michelle Obama’s Let Girls Learn initiative. We spent three weeks in the middle of Eastern Province, Rwanda learning how to program, building connections with girls from all over the U.S. and Africa as well as prototyping some socially-good tech products.
The five best prototypes were presented to First Lady of Rwanda, Jeanette Kagame. My team was one of the top five, and we prototyped solar-powered Wi-Fi hotspots, so that was a really incredible experience.
Many of my current perspectives on global feminism and the intersection of feminisms and surrounding culture are due to the conversations and experiences I had while in Rwanda. There were definitely moments where I felt vulnerable and sometimes homesick, but I was able to connect with and build this multi-national community of global feminists, and I miss them every day.
You also have started an Asian Affinity group at your high school. What encouraged you to start this group and can you share some invaluable lessons you’ve learned from this experience?
Grace Wong: I was able to attend the Student Diversity Leadership Conference in 2015, which brings together 1600 high school students from independent schools from around the country to talk about bringing diversity into our communities. Independent schools like mine have historically been pretty exclusively for white and wealthy individuals, but in recent years there has been a huge push for increased diversity and inclusivity within those communities. I started the Asian Affinity group for students who identify as Asian or Asian-American, and just make room in our daily life for students to talk about their ethnic backgrounds. We are a safe space for students and faculty alike to engage in serious discussions about dealing with micro-aggressions, the Model Minority myth, and being Asian-American in such racially polarizing times in this country, but we also do fun stuff like talk about making our package ramen fancier, watching Awkwafina videos, and munching on Asian snacks.
In the larger community I have been a voice for diversity, and am lucky to have such a supportive network of people who have supported these efforts. One of the most important things I think to remember when talking about diversity and inclusivity, is that it’s not just about being racially diverse, there is so much more to diversity. Every person is a person of diversity from racial diversity to socio-economic to a diversity of opinion. All of those different perspectives create productive discussions and in celebrating our differences we can hopefully become better, bolder, and more compassionate people.
On a personal level, why does women’s empowerment matter to you?
Grace Wong: I am a woman. I am a woman of color. I want to be carefree. I want to be educated. I want to make the most of my sliver of time on earth. I want to be happy. I want to be a global citizen. I want to save the world. I can only do that by being a self-assured woman who has the ability to pursue those desires and dreams. Not only do I want that for myself, I want that for every little girl in the world, and I am going to fight damn hard to make that into a reality.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Grace Wong: There are so many it’s hard to choose! One woman who has completely changed my life is my English teacher Amanda. I think for really high-achieving, empowered women it can be difficult to be vulnerable and to model vulnerability. You look at women like Sheryl Sandberg, and she seems to have it all figured out; the C-suite, the family life, and a whole cult-following. But Amanda has taught me that it’s okay to not have it all together all the time, and really to take care of myself, and give the personal parts of myself in my work, and it’s changed the game.
What advice do you have for people who are interested in getting involved with social media advocacy related to women’s empowerment?
Grace Wong: Be fearless! Your voice is just as important as anyone else’s so pitch like crazy, but don’t take it personally if it doesn’t always work out. For every one site I’ve gotten, there have been four rejections, but it doesn’t keep me down. Also identify people who are established in the field, and try to get them to work with you to become a better writer. I owe so much of my success to my mentors.
What are your favorite books, films, websites and resources related to women’s empowerment, social impact and international development?
Grace Wong: Haha I could pages and page full of my favorite sites, books and resources but I will give you one of each.
Favorite female film: Girl Rising is so, so good! I know it has been out for a while, but seeing all of those girls globally trying to an education inspires me to work harder, feel deeper, and think higher.
Favorite female books: The Second Sex by Simone de Beavouir and Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. The Second Sex is truly a feminist classic, and I am 100% in love with Simone. Half the Sky looks at girls and international development; it’s a nice, short read and very informative. I am forever in awe of the Nicholas/Sheryl power couple!
Favorite female publication: Bitch Media! They have an amazing online platform and just gorgeous magazine! They are based in Portland, and I met the founder and editor-in-chief Andi Ziegler a couple months back, and she is the epitome of fiery feminist– I love it!