Three's a Charm

A trio of new Bezos Scholars reflect on their experience at the 2022 Aspen Ideas Festival.

By 2022 Bezos Scholars

9 min

2022 Bezos Scholars

My First Aspen Ideas Festival: Planting the Seeds for Change by Franklin Wu

I will never forget my first Aspen Ideas Festival. Every year the Festival gathers individuals from various backgrounds and fields of expertise for discussions about global and social issues and innovative ideas. As Bezos Scholars, we get to attend, participate and interact with diverse leaders across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discussions. It was an amazing experience that brought people and ideas together and was a place of inspiration for creating my own community change project.  As Scholars, we are each tasked with using the Festival as inspiration and motivation to develop and launch a project in our community that will make a meaningful impact. The program leads us on a journey to explore our sense of purpose and engage with our community to learn more about its greatest needs, select a need as a project focus, and build a team who will collaborate to take the project from vision to reality.

The first session I attended at the Festival, Power of Place, focused on how power structures – both in institutions and people – functioned and interacted with one another in society. The discussion centered around the response to the pandemic, and panelists highlighted how cultural institutions, museums and libraries stepped up to support students with resources and people power when government institutions, like our public schools, were stretched thin. The idea of “using existing systems to adapt to our needs” was an emphasis of the speakers.

I’m planning on building upon this concept as one of the key components of my project—that schools are more than just physical locations within the community and are important places that have the power to bring people together.

Franklin and Students

Me, far right, and some of my fellow Scholars, at the top of Aspen Mountain

Another session that had an impact on my ideas came from the session, Is Trust the Ultimate Currency of Stakeholder Capitalism? The five panelists in this session discussed how businesses had to handle involvement in societal issues as bearers of public trust. Panelists included top industry executives who shared that the public seems to now have more trust in businesses than in the government. Do CEOs have an obligation to address important societal issues?

In response, Tom Wilson, the CEO of Allstate, spoke about how many businesses use a framework to identify whether firms can address a particular issue. For example, the climate crisis is the cause of the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires and floods that destroy homes. Mitigating climate crisis induced weather events is good for business and society. My key takeaway from the session was that to create change, we need to frame solutions we can all benefit from and rally behind.

A third insightful session I attended was Inside the Minds of History’s Most Curious, featuring Walter Isaacson, a Tulane Professor of History and author. It seems fitting that a biographer of some of history’s most impactful individuals would help provide insight on how to put our own ideas into action. Mr. Isaacson shared the insight that he gained by spending time with the subjects of his books and getting to know them in real life.  When he discussed Steve Jobs, he remembered that Jobs shared that “creating new products is hard but creating teams is harder”. When the person who wrote the biography of some of society’s greatest individuals – Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci – tells you that finding the right people for the job was a major key to success, it seems wise to heed their advice.

After attending the Festival, I returned home with a plethora of new ideas and stronger inspiration to enact lasting change in my community. I discovered new ways to expand upon existing frameworks, gained ideas on how to build collaborations, and identified strategies on how to build a successful project team to support a project that creates positive impact. I’m looking forward to nurturing the seeds of ideas that were planted during Aspen.

Franklin clouds

Franklin Wu is a 2022 Scholar from Houston, Texas. He enjoys living in one of the most diverse cities in the country, happily exploring different cuisines and cultures. He is passionate about motivating youth to be civically engaged and wants to use policy as a mechanism for change on key issues impacting his community, including climate change and gun violence.

2022 Bezos Scholars Trip to Aspen: An Insider’s Scoop! by Nhaomi Lartey

During the last week of June, like most Scholars before us, 2022 Bezos Scholars had the opportunity to attend the Aspen Ideas Festival and explore a wide range of topics. The Festival is an annual week-long event held in Aspen, CO, filled with leaders ranging from artists and writers to teachers and analysts, all of whom participate in enriching dialogue. With so many offerings, it was challenging to choose which sessions to attend. The experience was game-changing.

From the moment you walk onto the Aspen Institute campus, you feel a surge of energy and excitement that flows throughout the space. And the dialogue and discussions definitely reflected that! One of the most empowering sessions I participated in, Democratizing Beauty, included Eva Chen, Vice President of Fashion and Shopping Partnerships at Instagram, Jessica Cruel, Editor in Chief of Allure, and Winnie Harlow, world-renowned model, actress, and founder of CAY Skin skin-care products. They discussed ways to destigmatize beauty standards to create an inclusive environment for all, angling the lens away from a social media perspective to center on the interactions we have, off the screen, in our daily lives. More importantly, they reiterated the importance of being comfortable in your own skin and being confident in who you are.

Nhaomi and Eva

Me with Eva Chen 

In addition to the various panelists and speakers present on campus, we were honored to have scholar-only Speaker sessions with notable and influential figures. I had the privilege of introducing Baratunde Thurston, a comedian, writer, activist, and host of America Outdoors with Baratunde Thurston, which just premiered on PBS in July. Among his endless list of accomplishments, and with great comedic relief, he shared some gems of wisdom, utilizing his humor to emphasize the dire need our world has for young leaders to make collective and lasting change.

One that heavily resonated with me was the acknowledgement that my generation isn’t responsible for solving all of the world’s problems. While we will strive to fulfill our goals of a more equitable society, the pressure to resolve everything is a heavy burden to carry. Thurston shared this as a reminder to focus on our goals and community-change initiatives without being overwhelmed by unrealistic perspectives and pressure. It was empowering to see such an accomplished figure I could personally relate to. Despite progress, representation of people of color in a multitude of career fields is still lacking, so engaging with a successful Black man that continuously breaks stereotypes was enlightening. What was most striking was how comfortable I felt engaging in dialogue with him; among his long list of accomplishments as a Harvard grad, Thurston carried himself humbly with grace. And his stories are a testament to the notion that hard work and sacrifice will pay off. He is living proof that the expectations of others does not define your life journey.

Peace Sign

2022 Scholars at the Festival with Baratunde in the center holding up a peace sign. 

Being able to network with a wide-range of diverse leaders has been an unforgettable opportunity. From being inspired to work harder to learning about different career paths and life trajectories, the Aspen Ideas Festival is truly a transformative and long-lasting experience.

Nhaomi Lartey is 2022 Bezos Scholar and Ghanaian American from the Philadelphia area who aspires to pursue a career in STEM. She is passionate about fostering change for equitable education and spreading STEM-based opportunities to underrepresented communities.

Lessons from a Scholar at the Aspen Ideas Festival by Jean Lin

  1. Surround yourself with winners: people who make us a better version of ourselves 

  2. Find your passion

  3. Don’t let anyone define you 

  4. Seek leadership opportunities and be willing to stand alone

  5. Find and defend your why 

  6. Embrace failure 

  7. Believe

These seven lessons were shared by Sidney Hankerson, who Bezos Scholars heard speak at the Aspen Ideas Festival this June. Sidney is an associate professor and vice chair for community engagement in the psychiatry department at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, where is he also directs mental health equity research at the Institute for Health Equity Research. Throughout his time with us, Sidney shared stories of personal experiences and how they tied into each of these seven lessons. We learned about his personal journey, his experience standing alone at times he pursued his passions, and how he overcame failures. While all of these lessons are incredibly important, number seven stood out most to me: Believe.

Listening to the diverse speakers at the Festival, I discovered one continuity among them. Every successful individual I encountered believed in themselves, their work and their passions. They believed they would be able to accomplish their goals and pushed past failures, believing they would eventually succeed.

Throughout our time together, we heard from incredible speakers from different backgrounds with various fields of expertise, from beauty to education to mental health. We engaged in panels that featured successful people such as supermodel Winnie Harlow, Olympic Gold Medalist Eileen Gu, and the CEO of Slack, Stewart Butterfield. The diversity of session topics was the best part — I went from one panel talking about democratizing beauty to another to learn how to build a culture of connection in a hybrid work future. The possibilities were endless.

Winnie Harlow

Me at the Festival with Winnie Harlow 

In today’s society, with the internet and social media platforms, it’s easy to compare ourselves with others, eventually losing faith. We stop believing. My time as a Scholar so far has taught me a vital lesson: People want to see us succeed. Many people I met in Aspen asked me about my work and aspirations, offering pieces of advice and words of encouragement. For the times we may not believe in or are questioning ourselves, finding a community that believes in us is significant. I have found my community of support with the Bezos Scholars Program.  

While these sessions were engaging and packed with learning, my favorite part was getting to share this experience with my new Bezos Scholars family. Being part of a 30-person group, there were always at least two to three Scholars at every session. After sessions, I enjoyed discussing what we learned and finding ways to connect that information with the projects we plan to develop and implement in our own communities.    


Sidney Jean Group

The 2022 Bezos Scholars cohort in Aspen. Sidney is in the front row, third from the right. 

I connected with amazing changemakers, learned about unique and relevant topics, and grew closer with my Bezos Scholars Family. I took away many lessons, but here are the ones that stuck out the most to me:

  1. The possibilities for change are endless 

  2. People want to see you succeed 

  3. Believe in yourself, your capabilities, and your ability to impact the world 

Jean Lin is a 2022 Bezos Scholar from Camas, Washington, and a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan. She is passionate about connecting youth around the world to empower and help every young person feel like they belong no matter their race, ethnicity or background. Jean is the founder and CEO of a nonprofit organization called Leaders Across the World which connects youth worldwide to act on critical global issues.