Green teen: Edwardsville High senior pushes student environmental activism
Eden Vitoff has modest plans for his future: He just wants to save the world.
Eden’s senior year at Edwardsville High School was highlighted by leading an Earth Day environmental rally in Springfield, speaking before the state capitol and starting a not-for-profit organization to encourage young people to become active in politics.
“A message from a young person really affects a politician more than a call from an adult,” Eden said. “Youth have a moral authority on these issues, because we will ultimately inherit this planet. Our voice has been unheard for too long.”
Youth have a moral authority on these issues, because we will ultimately inherit this planet.
Eden Vitoff, senior at Edwardsville High
The Green LYFE Network — originally named Illinois Youth Environmental Network — with the stated goal of educating and empowering high school and college students to speak out on progressive issues that matter. They have established chapters across the state and worked with other environmental groups and conferences to mobilize young people for activism.
“We hope to inspire the next generation of leaders,” Eden said.
Eden’s passion for the environment began with books he read in middle school about the issue of climate change and the drastic effects climate change would have on the planet, about fires and rising sea levels and mass extinctions.
“I waited for this book to have a happy ending, that it was being addressed and it wouldn’t affect me,” Eden said. “That never happened.”
So Eden set about writing his own happy ending. He and the EHS Environmental Club developed their small recycling program into a core of student activists, culminating in the Springfield rally — not a school field trip, but an excused absence, Eden said.
“I’m so passionate about this issue, and it can be disheartening when the people around you are not motivated to act on climate change,” Eden said.
Speaking at the Earth Day rally was “one of the highlights of my young life,” Eden said.
For a long time, Eden said, he wanted to be a scientist, but over the course of his high school studies, he found a stronger pull to public speaking and debate, aiming for a career in public service.
I refuse to be a bystander in the fight for my generation’s future.
Eden Vitoff, senior at Edwardsville High
So that’s why he’s going to George Washington University in Washington D.C. next year as a political science major.
“I refuse to be a bystander in the fight for my generation’s future,” Eden said. “People get so fed up with the politics of it that they give up. That is exactly what these corporations and polluters want… I’m trying to convert that frustration into productive energy and use that to make change.”
Q: What are the environmental issues that concern you the most?
A: “You can tell people to ride a bike, take shorter showers, reuse plastic bags, but people already know these things. So now I tell them to research your elected leaders. Find out who your representatives are, and look into what their stances are on environmental issues. Give them a call or a visit. A message from a young person really affects a politician more than a call from an adult. Youth have a moral authority on these issues, because we will ultimately inherit this planet. Our voice has been unheard for too long.”
Q: What was it like running a not-for-profit organization while still in high school?
A: “The Green LYFE Network’s nonprofit goal is to educate and empower high school and college students to speak out on progressive issues that matter. We hope to inspire the next generation of leaders. We have groups across the state; it often times feels like a full-time job… We have a network in place to take over when I go (to college), and we’re recruiting adult mentors to help the students keep working.”
Q: What awards have you received through your activism?
A: “Through the Green LYFE Network, I won an environmental competition to fly me out to speak at the Green School Conference and Expo, to address about 600 environmental leaders… Events like that really help to recharge your batteries, so to speak. I’m so passionate about this issue, and it can be disheartening when the people around you are not motivated to act on climate change.”
Q: What was your favorite class in high school?
A: “I just finished AP Human Geography, which works to explain the relationship between humans and the environment.”
Q: When you’re not saving the world, what do you do for fun?
A: “That is fun for me. I enjoy being outdoors. I think it’s important to take some time and appreciate what I’m trying to save — to take in the beauty of nature.”
Q: Any advice for your fellow students?
A: “Try to be a scientifically literate as possible. The issue of climate change has been wrongly politicized… You want to make sure that your elected leaders are using the right information.”
Meet Eden Vitoff
- Age: 18
- School: Senior at Edwardsville High School
- Family: Parents David and Lisa Vitoff and sibling Juliana Vitoff, 16
- Town: Edwardsville
- Clubs/activities: President of the EHS Environmental Club, co-founder of Edwardsville Teen Film Festival, anchor and video editor of the EHS Broadcasting Club
- Music: EHS Symphonic Band (first chair clarinetist, student conductor), EHS Marching Band (head drum major, clarinetist), Phantom of the Opera pit orchestra clarinetist, Illinois Music Education Association All-District Music Festival, guest clarinetist with EHS Orchestra and Choir, paid church piano accompanist
- Environmental Activism: Executive director of Green LYFE Network nonprofit, Climate Reality Leadership Corps (presenter at international conference), iMatter Youth Organization (statewide director, national youth council member), City of Edwardsville Cool Cities Committee (student rep), Sierra Club (activist), Watershed Nature Center (volunteer), Earth Hour “Edwardsville Unplugged” acoustic concert (organizer)
- Community Service: three years as president of Edwardsville Public Library Teen Advisory Board, Rotary International Interact, SAK (Serving Area Kids free sack lunches) volunteer
- Awards and honors: National Merit finalist, high honor roll, Tri-M Music Honor Society, Green Schools Quest Bi-State Award, Rotary Outstanding Service Award, Illinois State Scholar, EHS Tiger Choice Leadership Award, best picture/cinematography at Edwardsville Teen Film Festival, submitted winning design for new official Edwardsville Township logo
- Employment: Barista/cook at Sacred Grounds, Edwardsville