When 16-year-old Elizabeth Shvarts was just 13 years old, she participated in the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee. She remembers her experience as a contestant, which included learning about language and making friends from around the world fondly. Still, it wasn’t lost on her that thousands of deserving children would never have the opportunity to participate in the competition solely because of their geographic location and financial status.
“I wanted to connect children to a new culture and help them pave the path to a life out of poverty."
Elizabeth wanted to fight against the societal standard that a child’s ability to learn depends on their family’s financial situation. She co-founded Bridge to Literacy to promote English literacy lessons for at-risk students. “I wanted to connect children to a new culture and help them pave the path to a life out of poverty, as those living with illiteracy generally are subject to,” she said. “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bridge to Literacy’s mission has become more important than ever, filling an educational gap created by a lack of live instruction while offering a source of joy in an increasingly isolated time.”
As the co-founder and co-executive director of Bridge to Literacy, Elizabeth empowers underserved students in Kenya, Honduras, Mexico, Ukraine, and Gaza through volunteer-led lessons that revitalize the education system. She leads a team of 70+ teen motivated, creative volunteers worldwide and empowers her fellow Gen Z’ers to change the world through their actions.
As an exceptional Gen Z’er using her voice for good, Elizabeth was honored for her work as part of The ConversationaLIST in the Education category. “I use my voice not just to bridge educational gaps, but cultural gaps, providing a source of joy at a time when human connection is hard to come by,” she said.
Elizabeth wants those who are still seeking to find their voice to know that you can take up space in the world. “There’s no wrong way to express yourself, and as long as you dive into advocacy with empathy and passion, every word, every lyric is a platform for you to amplify the causes that drive you,” she said. “After all, every ripple can make waves, so don’t be afraid to cast that first stone into the water.”
"Every ripple can make waves, so don’t be afraid to cast that first stone into the water.”
Going forward, Elizabeth plans to continue making a positive impact on the world through education. As a social entrepreneur and avid writer, she hopes to fuse her creative and business interests in a Gen Z health and education startup while writing a YA novel highlighting diverse experiences in a quirky, thought-provoking way. “One of the best and most surreal parts of writing is that each pen stroke, each time you perform, is like etching your name into the sands of time,” she explained. “When I etch my name, I want to be remembered as an individual who harnessed my creative and entrepreneurial drive to bring people together.”
Elizabeth recalls her experience growing up with moderate views in a conservative household and feeling like she had to stifle her opinions in specific conversations. She’s grateful to The Conversationalist for exposing her to diverse perspectives around various topics and encourages herself to question her existing beliefs alongside a community of young people who genuinely want to make the world a better place.
She believes that Gen Z can achieve a unified world through understanding which means putting forth the effort to empathize with those of a different background or political spectrum and treating debate as a chance to work towards a solution to a common social issue. “By channeling this commitment to activism and creative methods of disseminating information, we can educate and empower individuals to challenge preconceived notions, facing uncomfortable truths while reacting to these hardships with hope,” she said.
“Taking the time to hold a judgment-free conversation with someone with a differing opinion is one of the best ways to break open an echo chamber.”
To break open her echo chamber, Elizabeth focuses on listening. “Taking the time to hold a judgment-free conversation with someone with a differing opinion is one of the best ways to break open an echo chamber,” she said.
When Elizabeth approaches a difficult conversation, especially when a person is too stubborn to acknowledge an opposing viewpoint, she tries to approach it with empathy. “Pathos is one of the most effective ways to defuse tension,” she explained. “Even the gravitas of an issue like climate change is apparent from statistics, so it’s easier to encourage understanding by asking people to consider how a certain outcome makes them feel.”