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#YOUnited: Social media unites students in America, China and beyond

Through a social media survey, students across the world voice their opinions about America's emphasis on education and the First Lady's trip to China.

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Members of SchoolJournalism.org’s Advisory Board recently participated in a press call with officials at the White House regarding the First Lady’s recent visit to China. This is the first in a series of stories written by Advisory Board members following the call.

“All people deserve the opportunity to fulfill their highest potential as I was able to do in the United States,” tweeted the First Lady. 257 favorites, 248 retweets.

It’s no doubt that social media is revolutionizing America.

With the First Lady’s recent visit to China in promotion of people-to-people interaction, especially with youth and the pursuit of education, America is now connected virtually. And it’s not just America; take a look at the First Lady’s Instagram and you’ll see Chinese youth commenting on her posts (in addition to American youth), furthering the interaction between youth across the world.

“America empowers its youth with its public education system and opportunities provided to help American youth pursue higher education,” a student from Chandler, Ariz., said in a survey conducted for this article. “Most importantly, youth have the right to speak and live in a country where [higher education] is not only permitted but encouraged–especially with the advent of social media.”

The survey conducted for this article studied the power of social media and was conducted in partnership with the National Teen Council, a student-led organization in which student leaders involved in local government and leadership connect to share ideas and plan initiatives involving youth in their communities. The council doesn’t meet in person; instead, they connect via — you guessed it — the Internet and social media. This survey was dispersed via social media, as well, and within a day, anonymous responses had been collected from 42 states and countries as far as Tanzania and Chile.

According to the survey, it’s evident that social media isn’t just a “social” method for youth; rather, it’s a method for them to be connected with the nation’s leaders and people across the world. The survey showed that 43 percent follow the First Lady, the president or the White House on social media, and the majority of those knew about the First Lady’s trip to China — and had much to say about it.

“I believe strongly in diplomacy and strong international relations, and I think as a smart, well-respected and well-known person who does not have an elected or appointed government position, she may be able to promote education and exchange in a unique way,” a student from Charlotte, N.C., said.

Another student from Orlando, Fla., added, “I think it’s an incredible idea to get different cultures involved to improve a common goal [of education].”

The fact that so much of the youth is informed about the First Lady’s trip is a testament to her promotion of the trip through social media, as well as her initiative to answer student questions about life in China. With the world of journalism transforming to accommodate to our fast-paced society, the First Lady has chosen a powerful way to connect with youth, as well as take a stance supporting the revolutionizing world of journalism. Most importantly, with technology being implemented in many schools across the nation, the First Lady is using an essential route to connect with students and promote education.

The First Lady’s educational initiative proves just how much America empowers the youth, and results from the survey support this statement.

“[America is] the land of opportunity. A land where the underdog has a chance. It’s a place to learn and grow,” a student from Lenexa, Kan., said in the survey. “It’s an environment that cultivates success by education.”

Yet youth feel empowered not simply by education but by the methods of which America educates, including unique opportunities like the First Lady’s support given through social media.

“America empowers its youth when it emphasizes education, keeps up with modern innovations and accommodates changes from old values,” a student from Eden Prairie, Minn., said.

The survey also showed the flip side, however, with the large emphasis on social media. Although it can indeed be a powerful tool to connect people across the world, cyberbullying was one of the hot topics discussed when asked about primary concerns for American youth.

And while education in America is empowering, many in the survey spoke up about concerns. Discrimination isn’t a thing of the past. Many mentioned concerns regarding underrepresented minorities, financial discrimination and discrimination against LGBT youth within the education system. Time and time again, concerns about the pricey cost of higher education in America were mentioned, saying that financial limitations often “put a glass ceiling between [students] and their dreams,” according to the student from Chandler, Ariz.

With the First Lady sharing her story and her belief in the power of education, steps are being taken in a positive direction to bridge these gaps regarding education concerns. And these steps are gaining positive feedback from America’s youth.

“The youth is granted so many freedoms and so many powers, thus creating a sense of responsibility in us,” said a student from Orlando, Fla., who follows America’s government on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. “America believes in the youth as not only the future of the nation, but also the present.”

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