Meet a Wavemaker: Alumna Kathy Chen
March 1, 2019

🌊 In Bow Seat’s “Meet a Wavemaker” series, we highlight the work of individuals, communities, or organizations who are making waves and inspiring positive change for our oceans: through art, activism, research, or all of the above! 🌊

For many students, participating in Bow Seat’s Ocean Awareness Contest is a stepping stone into the world of advocacy. The artistic process is a means for them to investigate knowledge and feelings around issues. It shapes their attitudes about their own power to make a difference and gives them the courage to speak up about the changes they want to see for their community and for their future.

We recently connected with Kathy Chen, a 10th grader from Ontario, Canada, whose 2018 award-winning art submission was “discovered” by local influentials. After seeing her work, event organizers invited Kathy to represent the youth viewpoint at a series of local climate change meetings. Kathy shares her experiences as a Contest participant, young community activist, and member of this inspirational generation of changemakers.

As a resident of Richmond Hill, Canada, you live far from the ocean but near Lake Ontario. Do you have a special connection to this body of water?

Kathy: Lake Ontario represents not only a very important body of water for our environment but also holds an emotional connection to experiences in my life. When I was younger, I remember going on walks around the lake with my family and visiting Central Island to see the beautiful views. Those are some of my most memorable times with my family.

Why did you participate in the Ocean Awareness Contest?

K: Ever since I was young, I had a passion for drawing and for protecting our environment. I decided to participate in the Contest because it allowed me to do something that combined both of my passions. It allowed me to use my art skills to communicate and make a difference in the world around me.

How did participating in the Contest affect your attitudes towards climate change? Towards art as an advocacy tool?

K: After participating in the Contest, my perspective on climate change definitely widened. I learned so much and have grown as an activist. By creating artwork with my research and passion, I realized that art can be a global communicator and a way we can exchange ideas without any language barriers. I can use my art skills as a voice and as a tool to inspire others and to make a change.

How do you feel when you look at the collection of art created by the Contest winners?

K: I feel completely inspired. It is truly incredible seeing so many like-minded individuals all around the world with such passion and talent. It inspires me to do more and push harder for this cause I care about and shows me how much of an impact our artwork can have on the world.

How is climate change affecting your community?

K: Every day I notice changes impacting my community. Sometimes they are small, and other times they are huge. I’ve been noticing that there are more heavy rainfalls in my community than there is snow, and Canada is known for its snow. Just a few years ago, there was a huge flood that hit Toronto. This flood was a terrible disaster caused by human impacts. It’s terrible seeing the consequences we have on our communities, which is why I want to help raise awareness and make a positive change in our world.

How did you become involved with the “Targeting Climate Change” events in Richmond Hill?

K: After receiving an award from Bow Seat, I emailed a press release to different newspapers; it was published on From this recognition, I was invited to a series of organizational events called “Targeting Climate Change” to represent the youth view. At these events, there were many knowledgeable influencers, including the Mayor of Richmond Hill, David Barrow, as well as many Ward Councillors, such as Daisy Wai. I was given the opportunity to provide my view and meet these inspiring people who came together to make legislative changes in Richmond Hill regarding climate change.

What unique perspectives did you offer as a representative of the youth view at these events?

K: I was the only youth representative and explained my perspective as well as my action plan to all the adults in the room. I discussed the meaning of my artwork and how I am taking steps as someone from a younger generation to fight against climate change.

Youth today are recognizing their role as changemakers more than at any other time since the 1960s; many are even leading political movements. How do you feel about growing up in this generation?

K: I feel proud to be growing up in a generation with so many young leaders. It’s empowering to see how youth today are taking leading roles in making the changes they want to see. I see technology evolving with time and younger generations making their own destinies. Being in this generation, I feel free to speak my mind and make the differences I want to see, which is truly amazing.

Did you consider yourself to be an activist before participating in the Contest? Do you consider yourself to be one now?

K: When I was younger, I always had a concern for our earth’s climate and environment–I helped with tree plantings and school and community cleanups, and adopted daily habits to help our earth. Today I continue to seek ways to make a positive impact on our environment, so I do consider myself an activist. Participating in the Contest was my very first step towards communicating my thoughts and concerns about our climate globally. The process of creating artwork for Bow Seat opened my eyes to the different possibilities of spreading awareness and making a bigger change in the world around me.

Do you plan to continue your involvement with ocean conservation issues in the future?

K: I definitely plan on continuing my involvement with ocean conservation issues in the future! I am planning on starting more initiatives in my school and community through clubs and the “Targeting Climate Change” meetings. I also plan on continuing to participate in the Ocean Awareness Contest by creating artwork that can raise awareness about our oceans and our changing climate.

What advice would you give to other young people who want to be a part of the conversation on issues important to them?    

K: I would say, start now. You are never too young to make a difference, and the best way to do so is to take action as soon as possible. If you find something important, it is worth your time and effort, so make sure to take steps to be a part of the conversation.

The 2019 Ocean Awareness Contest: “Presence of Future” is accepting submissions until June 17th, 2019. Students ages 11-18 around the world are invited to create visual art, poetry, prose, music, or film that explores the impact of climate change on the ocean. Join our community of 10,000 young people + counting who are making waves for our blue planet!

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Meet a Wavemaker: Alumna Kathy Chen

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