SPORTING a nose piercing and a Wu Tang Clan hoodie, Alicia O’Sullivan may seem like any regular 17- year-old girl. But this is no ordinary teen.
The Skibbereen native is fresh from her wins at the ESB Creative Tech Fest, where she was chosen from among 300 young people from all over the country to be TechSpacer of the Year, as well as winning the ‘Create with Purpose’ award for the short film she directed.
On top of this, she’s the National Executive rep for Cork County Comhairle na nÓg and is an outspoken advocate for young people on a range of issues.
Alicia has visited Romanian orphanages on an Erasmus project, she’s worked on YMCA projects on cybersecurity and online safety and... oh yes, she still manages to find time to play on her school’s senior rugby team.
I Care was Alicia’s winning short film: a personal account of what inspires her, set to a song written by her older brother Aaron, aged 22, who is a student in CIT Cork School of Music, and recorded by Alicia.
“Young people are the voice of reason and hope in the world,” is the quote that ends Alicia’s film.
This may not exactly tally with many adults’ view of teens as moody and irrational and not exactly up-to-date on social issues?
“The majority of young people might seem like they don’t care, but I think we need to be motivated,” Alicia says.
“We’re young people: we’re kind of lazy, we’re living through life, we’re changing and experiencing new things, and we need to be shown what matters and what is actually going to affect us.”
But Alicia, who plans to study Law and Politics in UCC and who would like to pursue a career in politics in future, thinks young people need more representation in political life, and in decision- making in general in society.
“When the Seanad were debating reducing the voting age to 16, one speaker basically said ‘They’ve no business in politics, they should be off enjoying their lives’. OK, yeah, but two years down the line, we’re still enjoying our lives and we have to deal with what you’ve voted in.”
Homelessness, feminism, cyberbullying, sex education... Alicia, a 5th year student in Skibbereen Community School, talks passionately about the many subjects she’s interested in.
Her involvement with Comhairle na nÓg came about because of her reputation for caring about such topics, she says.
“Bridget O’Sullivan, the former national exec’, went to our school. I would be quite vocal online and in person about issues effecting young people and everyone around knows that, so Bridget invited me to the AGM.”
It’s not all rosy for Alicia, whose outspoken use of social media hasn’t gone down well with some of her peers, and who has complained of Skibbereen suffering from “small town syndrome”.
“I’ve had awful messages, very direct things,” she says. “I’m quite out there, and some people do feel they have the right to be disrespectful. I posted something about social sexism on international women’s day a couple of years ago and got ridiculous comments and then I became known as being this feminist. I had posted literally one thing!”
Growing up in a rural environment can be a challenge for teens with big ambitions and Alicia has plans to move to the city after school to attend college.
“When you have broader ideas and you live in literally the bottom corner of the country, what do you do?” she says.
“I go to Cork or to Dublin and I meet all these amazing people with interesting ideas, so I suppose I do want to move away, and maybe even work abroad after I finish studying.”
The ESB TechSpacer awards, held in Google HQ in Dublin, saw the TechSpace Network, a consortium of more than 70 Irish youth organisations, schools and partners, celebrate the digital creativity of 300-plus Irish young people.
YMCA West Cork, in Alicia’s home town, is part of the TechSpace Network and it was here that Alicia completed a range of different creative digital projects, under the guidance of YMCA educator TJ Hourihan.
The wins aside, Alicia was delighted to attend the event and see the inventive work of her peers; proof, she says, that young people really are our hope for the future.
As well as a GoPro camera and €500, the TechSpacer award has given Alicia a year-long mentorship programme to help her with her career goals.
The daughter of painter-decorator Tony and full-time mum Sadie, Alicia says her family has always been the “driving force” behind her social advocacy and have influenced her thinking.
“I’m just really conscious of what’s important and what’s not. I’ve had a lot of influences and my family are definitely one.
“With your goals in life, people help you achieve them, and then you just put the work back in, and you can help someone else.”
To view Alicia’s short film see : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbxeJdbVniU&feature=youtu.be