Growing up I was always asked by my parents what impact I would like to make on the world. They have and continue to push my siblings and I. They push us to think about education as a journey to where we wanted to be as adults. They challenged us to think about how we could use that education to create positive change in the world.

Over the last few years, I have taken this education journey that I was on knowing that I hoped to address the barriers in our education system that I and so many others have experienced. As a member of Black Gen Z, I know that so many of my peers and I have had to deal with open racist acts, microaggressions, and dress code policies that discriminate against our natural hair, and the realities that we were in schools that were never designed to see us for our full potential.

As I walked across the stage last Friday at SMU for my law school graduation, it was not lost on me that each step took me closer to the end of my education journey. With each step, I thought about the people who came before me and how their struggle for freedom and equality allowed a 19 year old Black girl to make HERstory by earning her JD. I also thought about what my next phase of life would be. Each and every step of crossing that stage was both a point of reflection and planning for the future.

Over the past few days I continued to discuss with my family and mentors what the next phase of my life would be. As a member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Incorporated I was very aware that our organization was started by seven Black women who were educators. I was also aware that I had teachers in my own family who had spent their entire careers dedicated to teaching the next generation of Americans to be the best versions of themselves. I started to feel that I had been able to build this village around me of individuals that reinforced my desire to address the inequities in our schools.

This morning I announced to the world on the Tamron Hall Show that I had decided to accept a teaching position. I was proud to share this news from my life because I felt that it was important to show that as a member of Generation Z I was committed to addressing the issues that we know that exist in our world and that I was being part of a deliberate action to create a positive impact on our world.

I share this story of my decision to continue to make my path in life and take time to hopefully create a positive impact on our society to issue a call to action for my fellow members of Generation Z. What impact will we as a generation and as individuals make on our world?

Over the last few years, even before COVID, we have seen the rise of stories in the media highlighting a “trend” of the new precious “gap year”. These stories highlight how individuals have taken time off, usually a year, between high school and college. They share how many young Americans use this “gap” to refresh and refocus. We all understand how stressful the traditional education timeline, especially high school, is on students. We get it. But a year off?

At the same time, we also never see in these stories the reality that a “gap year” is also a status symbol of economic prosperity of one’s family and the ability of a young American to have the luxury to sit around and enjoy a year to refresh themselves. The media seldom focuses on those forced into a “gap” because they are unable to afford the rising costs of higher education and hope to work for a year and save money so they can pay for school. The media often misses the number of current college students struggling to pay for their basic living needs and the rise of on campus food banks and other social safety net services. 

The growing myth of a “gap year” is one made for social media posts filled with photos of those lucky enough to have the resources to travel and actually not work. It is a dream dangled before us that most young people can honestly only fantasize about. There is also the reality of how the dream of a “gap year” also creates missed opportunities for our generation to have a greater impact on the world. 

Generation Z has demonstrated to the world our ability to create impact on the world when we see an injustice. There are large numbers of media stories about how Generation Z has used our collective voices and the tools of social media to address injustices. Just ask former President Trump about all those “sold out” events during his campaign that were never really “sold out”. 

As a generation entering adulthood, we should be having a discussion about how our time can best be used to create the change in the world we want to see. Instead of letting the media tell us that we need a “gap year” we should be focusing on how we create an “impact year” during our own journeys. We should be taking the online activism that we have already demonstrated to the world and bringing it into our communities with direct actions that create a positive impact on the world. 

As we continue our collective journey as a generation in America and around the world, we should continue to inspire each other to pursue becoming the best versions of ourselves and leading the fight to address the serious issues we know exist. We should be working to create an impact felt far into the future. We should be the generation committed to ending the real American tradition of passing down the problems created by the worst parts of our history on to the next generation. 

We have the ability as a generation to be the solution to the problems that have plagued us since 1619. We have the responsibility to understand that by accepting a narrative that pushes our activism off for time periods like a gap year goes against what we say we believe in. We should be asking each other, and ourselves, what our impact will be in the world.

Haley Taylor Schlitz is 19 years old and the youngest Black person to graduate from law school in the history of the United States. In May of 2022, Haley graduated with her Juris Doctor from the SMU Dedman School of Law. In May of 2019, she became Texas Woman’s University’s youngest graduate in history when she graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Woman’s University College of Professional Education. She is also the host of the online show Zooming In w/Gen Z. Follow all her endeavors on Instagram and Twitter