When Hannah Alper wanted to start a blog at nine years old, her parents were clear: it could not be about how much she loved herself or Justin Bieber.
Nine years later, the 18-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., is one of Canada’s youngest, and most outspoken, environmental and social activists. She is among 6,350 first-year students entering Western this fall.
Alper’s passion for the environment initially started with a love of animals. “I have two dogs at home, I can’t walk by a dog and not ask if I can pet it. My parents and I started educating ourselves on issues like animal habitat loss and deforestation. And as a kid, I became really devastated. But I turned that devastation into motivation to do something about it. So I made my blog about the little things we can do in our everyday lives to be eco-friendly,” Alper said.
As she grew up so did her activism, which did not go unnoticed by the mainstream media. In 2018 at only 14, Alper was already on Bloomberg’s 50 Ones to Watch, the youngest person to make the list.
According to the change-maker, it’s the little things that people do that can collectively make a difference. It’s a belief Alper expresses in her book (yes, she’s also a published author), MomentUS: Small acts, big change, where she interviewed 19 of her role models, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and Blake Mycoskie, American entrepreneur and philanthropist.
The premise of the book is Alper’s “formula for change”: issue + gift = change. Find a cause you are passionate about and use your gift, something you’re good at, to help that cause and make a difference.
“My goal was for people to be able to see their issue and their gift represented in the book and find a role model from there,” she explained. “I was really excited to see people finding ways to create change in something I created.”
Coming to Western
Alper will join the Faculty of Information and Media Studies in the media, information and technoculture (MIT) program. She realized she wanted to become a journalist not long after her activism started.
“During my school experience, I was really lucky to learn how the media has played a role in our lives. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that now I’m going into media information and technoculture,” she said. “It’s really [about] learning even more, taking that next step, to learn more about how the media shapes our lives, and how the media can really change the world.”
As someone who has spent half her life as a storyteller, Alper has high hopes for a career in journalism, but also recognizes the current challenges facing the profession, in an era of 24-hour news cycles and a growing mistrust of the news.
She expresses these sentiments and what she believes is the solution in an essay she wrote as part of her successful President’s Entrance Scholarship application.
“One of the reasons this is so startling to me is that I have prided myself on being trustworthy,” she wrote in her essay. “Joining the ranks of the ‘untrusted’ is both a leap of faith and a personal declaration of my belief that we need journalism now more than ever.”
Alper’s optimism and enduring trust in the power of people to change their own circumstance is evident in her essay. “With every issue, there is a solution. This solution is people – both the people consuming the news and the people delivering it,” she wrote.
While still actively fighting for Mother Earth, Alper is casting a wider net and taking up other social causes she’s passionate about.
This summer, she was an intern with the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, where she got a deeper understanding of issues around anti-semitism, racism and human rights.
“The organization is an incredible human-rights nonprofit that works to fight against anti-semitism and all kinds of racism and hate through education, tolerance and understanding, and empathy and conversation. Our values and our mission aligned so much, so I was really lucky to get this opportunity,” Alper said.
She’s been having conversations with community leaders and advocates – within and outside Canada – about racism and hate. Most recently, she had discussions with an anti-hate group from Los Angeles, Calif., about how to combat online hate, particularly among the youth.
“I feel so lucky and grateful that I get to have these kinds of conversations and really be a voice and share any kinds of solutions that I can from my own experience,” Alper said.
In her quest to change the world, Alper has travelled to many interesting places, talked to many different community groups and demographics. And she thanks her parents and teachers for supporting that aspect of her global education.
“My best experiences have been on community service trips to Kenya and Costa Rica, seeing the issues I’ve been taking action on first-hand and seeing the solutions first-hand too,” she said.
For Alper, small steps can have a big impact.
“When you break it down, you can see that change in the world can be about changing your world – your school, your home, your community.”