Teen Vogue's 21 Under 21 2019: The Young People Changing the World

Meet this year's class of outstanding girls, femmes, and nonbinary people.

Rosdely Ciprian, 15, and Thursday Williams, 18, Changemaking Performers

By Claire Dodson

New York high school debaters Thursday Williams and Rosdely Ciprian are a crucial element of the groundbreaking What the Constitution Means to Me, a Broadway play written and performed by Heidi Schreck that analyzes the legacy of the historical U.S. document in the context of Schreck’s own experiences. Thursday and Rosdely come in at the end of the play, just in time to debate with Schreck about whether the Constitution should be abolished — with the winner decided by a random audience member. The teens debate the Constitution's effectiveness (with the side they argue depending on a nightly coin toss), and in doing so, allow space for the audience to unpack their own issues, both with what is revolutionary about the document and what it fundamentally lacks.

Thursday and Rosdely’s work on the play, as well as their experiences as debaters, has shaped the way they look at the world and how they want to influence it. “As a future lawyer and congresswoman, I will create the foundation for change,” Thursday says. “I aspire to represent the underrepresented, as well as to create policies that will reshape the justice system. I hope to see a more just and inclusive society where black men and women are not a majority of the prison population and black juvenile delinquents are not seen as targets to society.”

Imagining the world in the next two decades, Rosdely is both skeptical and determined: “Well, that is, if we even make it to 21 years, with the serious climate crisis that’s going on,” she says. “I believe that if we can have three cameras on our phones, we should be able to find and create something that can fix our planet. Before you have a phone, you have to be alive to use it, right?”

About The New York City Urban Debate League

Our mission is that every school should have a debate team and every student should have the opportunity to the best debate education opportunities. One of the most critical problems in education today is the academic and civic achievement gaps. Our solution is to provide the best college, career, civic, communication and community opportunities through year round academic debate. Each month we work with thousands of students and hundreds of schools. We support debate practices every day, debate centers every week, tournaments every weekend, workshops every month, debate camps all summer, and year round support for any student and teacher. We are one of the the city’s most award winning curricular and extracurricular programs. We have received awards from the White House, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Presidential Commission on the Arts and Humanities, National Institute for Museum and Library Services, The Social Index of Top 100 Nonprofits, BoardSource, Points of Light’s Civic Accelerator, Teach for America, and by the First Lady as “one of the top arts and humanities based programs in the country.” Why Debate? Debate teaches every academic skill and every academic subject. A Great Debater means a person who has the skills and confidence to lead, to speak up, to argue, to question, to read and write to right the wrongs, to know about the world around you, and to change the world around you.

The New York City Urban Debate League
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