When Waco High School freshman Abigail Zimmerman found out she had been featured in The New York Times, she uttered a slight scream in the middle of her third period class.
Abigail, 14, responded to a query from the Times on the publication’s Instagram story that asked members of Generation Z, generally defined as people born after 1995, to swipe up and fill out an application with basic information about themselves, a photo and an answer to the question “What makes you different from your friends?”
A month later, Abigail received an email that said she might be in The New York Times. She started obsessively checking the Times every day to see if she had been selected. When she saw her response included, she was in class.
“It was surreal,” she said. “I was so excited. I couldn’t believe it. I had to turn my phone off and back on.”
Out of more than 3,500 applicants, 992 were selected for the print and online feature, “900 Voices from Gen Z, America’s Most Diverse Generation,” which was printed in the March 31 edition of the newspaper.
The online interactive feature includes this description:”What is it like to be part of the group that has been called the most diverse generation in U.S. history? We asked members of Generation Z to tell us what makes them different from their friends, and to describe their identity.”
Abigail’s response reads: “b. 2004, Hispanic, female, Waco, Texas; ‘I read the news daily and keep up with political issues such as gun violence, climate change, and nutritional and agriculture policy.’”
At first, she did not know how to respond to the question. She had wanted to be in The New York Times since she was old enough to appreciate the news organization, and she knew this was her chance.
“Most of the people I know who are my age don’t read the news. They might think it’s important, but it’s too much or it’s hard for them to read the news in our current day and age. But I do,” she said, expounding on her answer to the Times. “I love politics, and I love keeping up with government and what’s going on in our world because I think it’s incredibly important.”
Lisa Saxenian, dean of academies and instruction at Waco High School, said she has never had a student in The New York Times before.
“I’m just so proud of her,” Saxenian said. “This is something she’s always wanted to do. Who takes the time to apply? That’s what I was so impressed with.”
Abigail said it was interesting to see how different the other people included in the feature are and their various responses. Some of the responses were simple, such as “I like to read,” but it still rang true.
“I think it can be easy to say ‘Oh, I’m only 13, 14, 15. I can’t vote.’ But this is the world we’re inheriting,” she said. “It’s important just to know what’s going on in your country, in your world. Just because you can’t vote doesn’t mean you can’t be involved in the process.”
After the Parkland school shooting in Florida last year that killed 17, Abigail helped organize a walkout at Tennyson Middle School. She also spoke at the local March for Our Lives protest and canvassed for Texas Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke last year. Those experiences and her parents led her to realize she could make a change even at a young age.
“My parents have always stressed the importance to me of being involved and how important our government is,” she said.
At Waco High School, Abigail is involved in choir, junior varsity tennis, student council and mock trial. She also sits on the Waco Youth Council.
Until high school, Abigail did not own a cellphone or use social media — a decision by her parents that gave her perspective on what it is like to go without certain privileges her friends had. Now, she pays her own cellphone bill and values social media as an “amazing tool.”
“When you’re that young, you’re so impressionable and somewhat innocent, and there are things in the world and on social media you don’t need to see,” she said. “When you go home from school and you have social media, you’re taking it with you. You’re taking the drama and you’re taking the stress from school, the grades and everything. It’s with you. But when you don’t have it, you can just be with your family and not worry. As a young child, it was better for me to able to experience my childhood and grow up, even though if you talked with my parents they would probably say I wasn’t as excited about it.”
Abigail uses social media to stay updated on current events and issues, including climate change and gun violence, some of the most important challenges her generation will face, she said.
“We’re growing up with a lot, but I hope it’ll make us stronger,” she said.