Stories for the Ages: Young People Who Inspire

As children, we wonder what our futures will hold. But, at least for most of us, those wide-eyed dreams of youth aren't fully realized until decades later in our lives. That's not the case for the young people profiled here. Whether taking a stand against bullying on a national stage, developing a breakthrough cancer treatment, suiting up in a football uniform as the only female player on the field, or giving a voice to the transgender community even in the face of death threats, these inspirational young women and men are accomplishing feats largely reserved for those twice, three times, four times their age. Let's hope that the remarkable achievements of these individuals -- young people invested in innovation, devoted to bettering humanity, determined to have their voices heard -- are indicative of the power and possibilities of this generation and the ones that follow. Their drive, passion and efforts far exceed their age, and their accomplishments will continue to inspire for years to come.

Fighting Words
Actress Anne Hathaway and Jaylen Arnold at the 2014 World Of Children Awards on November 6, 2014 in New York City. Jaylen Arnold describes himself as “an alphabet kid,” referring to all the letters associated with his name: Jaylen Arnold, TS, OCD, ASP. From age 2, Jaylen courageously faced the challenges of Tourette Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome. Perhaps more difficult than managing his symptoms was facing the painful bullying he received from classmates. Not one to fight back physically, Jaylen instead dealt a much mightier blow to his adversaries, founding Jaylens Challenge Foundation, Inc., a national non-profit that discourages bullying.
Robin Marchant/Getty Images
Sounds Like a Superhero
Before Grant Hasse was even born, he was diagnosed with a rare, usually fatal, medical condition. Given a one percent chance of survival, Grant beat the odds – only to face yet another struggle at age one, when doctors realized he had no vocal chords. Fast-forward several years, and the feisty four-year-old boy is not just surviving, he’s thriving. Thanks to innovative medical procedures and a spirit that simply won’t be silenced, Grant is, remarkably, learning to speak.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Pretty Perfect Playbook
“If you don't tackle Sam Gordon, you're going to be running sprints!” After seeing Sam’s highlight reel or spotting her on a Wheaties box, you’ll understand why the coach on the opposing team issued that warning. Sam isn’t just the best player on the football field or the smallest, she’s also the team’s only girl. Her see-it-to-believe-it skills have earned the 12-year-old prestigious awards and several laps around the talk show circuit. Looking ahead, Sam may put football on hold to pursue her dream of joining the U.S. women’s national soccer team.
Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Carrying Their Weight
University of Detroit Jesuit High School encourages its students to become “men for others.” More than 50 teens at the all-boys prep school are exemplifying that tenet, volunteering as pallbearers at the funerals of homeless men and women. Students have already carried the flag-draped caskets of three military veterans whose bodies went unclaimed at the county morgue. “We kind of represent the family that is not here to be with them. And that is, I think, a privilege.”
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Nailing Philanthropy
Alanna Wall always had a passion for art and helping others. Combining those loves, Alanna began offering manicures to girls with special needs. Pretty quickly, her hospital pick-me-ups became more frequent, and others began volunteering. Add some polish, a little glitter and, before she knew it, Polished Girlz, a national non-profit serving hospitals, support groups, chemotherapy centers, and dialysis centers, was born.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Nickelodeon
Jack of All Trades
Jack Andraka’s Wikipedia page describes him as an “American inventor, scientist and cancer researcher.” It also lists his age: 18. Inspired by the loss of a family friend, Jack turned to Google and YouTube to research cancer growth. Despite facing initial rejection from experts in the field, Jack is now credited with inventing a fast, inexpensive method to detect the presence of pancreatic, ovarian and lung cancers in their early stages. Having already accomplished what most would be lucky to achieve in a lifetime, today the whiz kid continues his research at Stanford University.
Cindy Ord/Getty Images
A History of Jazz
“Meanies.” In one word, Jazz Jennings offered a perfect response to a Wisconsin school that canceled her book reading, following parental outcry. Jazz, a 15-year-old transgender activist who has lived as a girl since age 5, is no stranger to backlash. The outspoken YouTube star, author and TV personality has even received death threats. According to her parents, Jazz was clear on being female as soon as she could speak. And speak she will. Her TLC docu-series, “I Am Jazz,” attracted 1.3 million viewers in its premier.
Kimberly White/Getty Images for GLAAD
Sick Beats
At age 3, Julian Pavone had already performed on the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” Just shy of 6, Julian set a Guinness World Record as the “youngest professional drummer.” Add to that a CD of his work, an Emmys appearance, profiles in thousands of publications, performances alongside REO Speedwagon and patents on several inventions, and it’s fair to say this drumming prodigy has rocked his first 11 years of life. And did we mention he partners with the Children’s Miracle Network and fronts a band that highlights the abilities of those with special needs?
ASSOCIATED PRESS
Healthy Business Model
Katie “Rain” Adams loves dogs and enjoys baking -- nothing out of the ordinary for a 12-year-old. But unlike most kids her age, Katie turned those hobbies into a business, launching Pawsitively Amazing Pet Treats at the age of 10. Katie’s passion for healthy, wholesome ingredients didn’t stop with pets. Instead, she began whipping up recipes for humans. Her veggie-packed turkey chili landed her a spot at the table at this year’s Kids’ State Dinner at the White House, hosted by the First Lady, honoring young chefs across the country.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Seeing the Light
Remember the last time your electricity went out? You scrambled to find a flashlight, only to discover it was out of batteries. If Ann Makosinski has her way, that won’t happen again. As part of a ninth grade science project, Ann invented a flashlight that is powered by the heat in your hand, shining for as long as you hold it. After honing prototypes, the inquisitive teen went on to be recognized by Google, speak at a TED conference and appear on the “Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.”
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
1 of 10