Famous faces to speak at Zeminar: the biggest and only youth summit of its kind

An event at the RDS will gather speakers to address a range of issues relevant to young people, writes Clodagh Finn

THE story of Zeminar, the biggest and only youth summit of its kind, is not only in the numbers, though they are impressive. Some 75 speakers and 100 exhibitors will gather at the RDS from October 11 to 13 to share their experience, strength and hope with Generation Z, those aged 15 to 20.

This event has brought together an impressive list of speakers, from Bressie to The Strypes, and asked them to tell students how they navigated the bumps in the road on their journeys through life.

It’s intended to offer young people the tools to deal with all the issues that affect them.

For now, it’s a three-day event, but Zeminar CEO and founder Damien Clarke hopes this will mark the beginning of a well-being movement for young people in Ireland.

After doing a stint at the Web Summit in 2014, he decided he wanted to do something on a similar scale but focused on the next generation.

“After travelling around the country and meeting with parents, teachers and young people, it soon became apparent that there was no such event that caters for young people’s issues and interests,” says Clarke, who has worked with several youth organisations and is now studying for a doctorate in counselling psychology.

The ‘Z’ in Zeminar refers to Generation Z, of course.

The generation born in the late 1990s, after the Millennials, will be the most digitally savvy and connected we have seen to date.

“The challenges this generation face are similar to those of previous generations but with added pressure fuelled by social media and technology to look a certain way and be a certain way,” says Clarke.

There are many more. Research by youth mental health organisation headstrong.ie shows that anxiety, sleep issues, cyberbullying, academic pressures, unhealthy diets and isolation are also growing problems.

It might seem overwhelming but, says fellow voluntary organiser Ian Fitzpatrick, we can work together to equip the younger generation with the tools they need to cope with the challenges facing them.

The fact that Zeminar is a face-to-face event is vital, says Fitzpatrick, a father of two. “This generation will be the first one to be hooked up [to the internet] from the beginning; they will have constant access 24/7. They can curate all the messages that are posted, so sometimes it’s easy to forget that life isn’t perfect; you can make mistakes. That is one of the main reasons we are doing this.”

The invited speakers will share some of those mistakes and talk about how they dealt with life’s considerable challenges. For instance, Nikki Bradley’s contribution is called ‘When Life Gives You Lemons’.

The 27-year-old was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma, in 2002. She went on to set up Fighting Fit for Ewings to highlight the disease. She had to have a hip replacement and needs a crutch, but last June she broke the Guinness Book of Records’ time for the fastest 5k on crutches. “I wish I had an event such as Zeminar to attend when I was a teen as it would have opened my eyes to what is available out there,” she says.

  • Zeminar is on at the RDS, Dublin, from October 11-13. Early bird tickets cost €5 per day for students. Full price €10, and €15 for adults. Teachers and trainee teachers are free. See www.zeminar.ie

 

MARIA WALSH

Former Rose of Tralee and businesswoman

“I believe an event such as Zeminar is essential in modern Ireland. Young people need to see and, more importantly, feel that there are supporters a-plenty for them in this country. They need to hear members of their society fight for them to have opportunities, to grow and develop.

As an advocator for young people in Ireland for many years, it is imperative to me that each young person in the country feels heard, inspired and given an opportunity to be successful in their own significant way. We, as a collective society, can offer them all these things through events such as Zeminar.

What will be inspiring as a participant is seeing seeds being planted in our young people, perhaps through a conversation, or a shared personal story, or visual aid.

I am fortunate to have a number of personal stories to share. I will be speaking about my choice to become a pioneer at 12, my LGBT story, moving to New York City to work in the fashion industry in my early twenties, the impact my year as International Rose of Tralee had on me and my family and my struggles during this transition period I currently find myself in.”

FR PETER McVERRY

Campaigner for the rights of vulnerable young people

“I’m taking part because it’s an opportunity to influence a large number of idealistic young people. I have taken part in other youth events and the enthusiasm of the young people was palpable.

“They never stopped asking questions and their eagerness to listen was evident. In such a group, you sow seeds and hope some of them will grow.

I’m always willing to participate if someone thinks it is useful!

I’m going to talk about how working with homeless people has changed me – it has taught me never to judge anyone, it has made me very critical of how society marginalises whole groups of people and fails to address their needs.

And it has taught me the importance of showing respect and care to people who often do not experience respect or care.

I hope that some of [those attending Zeminar] might get a new insight into homelessness and challenge some of the stereotypes that people have about homelessness.”

DAVID GILLICK

Olympian and MasterChef winner

“I’m delighted to be taking part in such an important seminar and to share some of the [lessons I’ve learnt] from the world of individual professional sport. Over the years, I’ve learnt about dealing with highs, lows and everything in between.

Having dreams is important, and training yourself to give it a go can be extremely rewarding. It took me a while to realise what my dream was but, once I did, I gave it my all and I managed to represent myself, my family and my country on the biggest stage.

I feel there is a lot of pressure on young people, including having to make big-life decisions at a young age, keeping up appearances through social media and trying to fit in.

It’s vitally important to share the experiences of the people who have gone before and maybe who, at times, made wrong decisions.

It’s only through sharing and talking that others can find answers to their questions. It’s also an opportunity for the next generation to understand what lies ahead.

I’m going to tell my story from dropping out of college, changing third-level courses, pursuing my dream of becoming an Olympian, dealing with success and failure and the transition from the world of sport into the real world.”

RHONA MAHONY

Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin and mother of four

“As Master of the National Maternity Hospital, I see 25 to 30 babies leave the hospital every day. You cannot help but wonder about the road ahead for these babies. As a mother, I am watching my own children grow up and I realise ages 15 to 20 are so transformational.

Zeminar is all about creating a platform to connect with this generation — to listen to their experience and to hear about the issues that matter to them. It is also about providing tools to equip young people for the vagaries of the journey into adulthood.

“Navigating the relative online jungle that exists is no easy task, but it is a fundamental part of being young today. As parents and as a society, we need to try to understand the issues facing our children.

“Generation Z has grown up in the shadow of a major recession and we need to give them the confidence and optimism they deserve. Zeminar is about connecting with our young so we can be there to love them, keep them safe, but let them fly at the same time. I’ll talk on leadership, but I’m much more looking forward to hearing from Generation Z themselves!”

DERMOT WHELAN

Today FM radio host, TV presenter and podcaster with a passion for meditation

“I’ll be talking about ‘Tinder for Thoughts’. This is my own visualisation technique for controlling how we deal with our thoughts, fears and anxieties. It’s based on the popular dating app, Tinder. In the app, a user swipes right for someone they think may be a good match for them, and left if they are not attracted to that particular personal profile.

When I saw the app, I realised it would be a great model for how we cope with our thoughts. Most of us are extremely choosy when picking a potential date, yet we tend to blindly swipe right when it comes to any thought, helpful or unhelpful, that pops into our heads.

We needlessly wine and dine destructive, fearful thoughts, often neglecting new ways of thinking that could be very beneficial for us.

With my technique, it becomes easier to sift through your 60,000 thoughts a day and pick the keepers. So my motto is, “Don’t be a thought slut!” We need to get off our butts and share any knowledge we have learned with young people. I wish someone had told me 20 years ago not to pay so much attention to my thoughts. That there are tools you can use to make yourself more confident and resilient. That life is meant to be fun!

Children or young adults’ worlds are so much smaller now than years ago. We’ve taken away a lot of their freedom to roam and explore and to make mistakes and learn from them. So the very least we can do is give them the tools to become masters of their inner worlds, their own hearts and minds, the worlds that really matter.

Plus it’s only a fiver in [early bird tickets], so it’s a no-brainer.”

MARK LITTLE

Storyful founder and head of Twitter Ireland

“My office is full of bright, young people. Many of them are Irish, many aren’t. But they’re all brimming with energy and a belief that what they’re doing has an impact and the company they’re working for has and will continue to change how we share information and communicate with each other.

“I want to see the next generation of Irish graduates come into the world with that same energy, that same belief – that they can do something important and make a contribution to something larger than themselves. Zeminar is exciting because it brings these young minds together in a place where, hopefully, I and other speakers can tell some stories and impart whatever wisdom and lessons we’ve learned along the way.

Zeminar is important, too, because these speakers will be encouraging them to find their own path, to be unapologetic and unafraid in doing so, and to manage any anxiety they encounter with a cool head and always in the knowledge that support will be there for them.

My talk is on the mental challenges of entrepreneurship. The path of an entrepreneur is filled with difficult questions. Should I leave my job to pursue this path? Do I have faith in my idea? Can I find the right people to help me bring this idea to fruition? Can I solve the problems that will arise? A creative, open-minded, collaborative approach is necessary, built on a steely determination to see your project succeed and reach its fullest potential. Sometimes, our education system doesn’t nurture these qualities as much as it should. I’ll talk about how to adapt your mindset to a world where young Irish students and graduates can increasingly do anything they set their minds to.”

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