The five students gathering at the first meeting of Oregon Student Voice had a daunting assignment: find a way to influence education decision-makers in Oregon. The students themselves had never met. But Jared Cetz seemed to bring the room together, identifying how they could make a difference and what it would take.
Jared’s vision that summer of 2016 helped shape one of the most important independent education movements by young people in Oregon.
And the kicker? Jared had just finished eighth grade.
“He had never even been to high school, but he already wanted to improve students’ experiences,’’ said Samantha Holquist, adviser for the student-led organization.
At 14, Jared helped establish the mission, vision and goals of Oregon Student Voice with his four teammates. By 15, he was testifying at the Legislature and publishing opinion pieces in The Oregonian. And now, at 16, he’s the executive director of Oregon Student Voice, overseeing a team of 10, engaging 50 other members, and planning statewide campaigns.
“No one realizes he is a sophomore. He’s one of the youngest and longest-serving members,’’ Holquist said. “But he stepped in when we really needed a leader who was inclusive, empathetic and could bring the students together.’’
For his efforts and for volunteering at least six hours a week, Jared will receive the Jennifer Beegle Award for Youth Involvement. The award comes after Jared led Oregon Student Voice’s State of Our Schools report, which examined the state’s public schools through students’ eyes. The study included more than 2,300 survey responses and 12 focus groups.
“At its base, we’re doing something good,’’ Jared said. “Oregon Student Voice empowers students to be authentic partners with education decision-makers, to have a seat at the table. We go to school five days a week; we know what makes a difference.’’
Jared, who will be a junior next fall at David Douglas High School, said he first connected to education policy through the independent nonprofit Chalkboard Project. A former teacher recruited him to address a teachers’ conference.
“I’m very extroverted and I think she remembered I was just every interested and very passionate," he said.
When students approached Chalkboard Project with the idea to elevate student voices, Jared met with four other passionate students to make Oregon Student Voice a reality. He is particularly skilled at working closely with others.
“He never puts himself or his ideas first,’’ Holquist said. “Instead he works to understand the thoughts and opinions of his peers.”
Jared said his love of education was inspired by his father, a single parent who works as a mixer at Franz Bakery in Portland. As the youngest (his older brother attends George Fox University), he said he and his brother wanted to help their dad support the family and one another.
“I’m just grateful for everything I have,’’ Jared said. “My dad immigrated from Mexico and he has shown so much love to me. I am just so grateful to be in this country and have this opportunity.’’
As an advanced honors student with a 4.0 grade point average, Jared said his biggest challenge is managing his volunteer work along with extracurricular activities and at least four hours of homework every night. He said he’s constantly using whiteboards, calendars, sticky notes and other tools to keep up — and sometimes misses sleep and meals to make it all work.
Nonetheless, he has no interest in stepping back. Instead, he’s excited about Oregon Student Voice’s first statewide student voice rally he’s planning, set for Sept. 24 at Willamette University.
His dream is to study international relations in college and someday work at the United Nations where “I could be helping people but also learning.” Education will be his passion, he says, for some time.
“The passion comes from wanting to make use of every opportunity and the fact, I just like helping people,” he said. “It brings me joy. ‘’