DENVER – Time Magazine has named its first-ever "Kid of the Year" — 15-year-old Gitanjali Rao from Colorado.
Gitanjali, who lives in the Denver suburb of Lone Tree, was chosen from a pool of more than 5,000 nominees for her "exceptional leadership" in finding solutions to societal problems such as cyberbullying and water contamination, according to a brief description of the selection process from Time.
"It was exciting. All my friends are really excited; they've been freaking out about it all day, as have I — as I should — and it's just such a surreal exciting, exciting experience," Gitanjali said over a Zoom call Thursday.
Gitanjali said she was given the news of her most recent accomplishment by Academy Award-winning actor and UN humanitarian ambassador Angelina Jolie. She said the "surreal" experience was something she never would have imagined.
And while she may be the first-ever Kid of the Year, it isn't the first accomplishment for the bright teenager.
In 2018, when Gitanjali was 12 years old, she spoke with Scripps station KMGH in Denver after she was named America's Top Young Scientist for creating Thetys, a device that detects lead in water — an invention inspired by the water crisis in Flint, Mich.
"I think there's so much we can do with technology; we just have to apply it in the right way, and that's really what I wanted to start doing," Gitanjali said Thursday when asked about her motivation for helping others. "The whole situation (of the 2019 shooting at STEM School Highland Ranch in Colorado), if anything, it motivated me to keep doing more — and not just more in terms of using technology, doing more in terms of helping people and just growing as a person."
Her message for those wanting to change the world?
"I think, if you start with a question of what you're passionate about and what you like, everything will fall into place… If anybody wants to change the world, for those of you watching who want to make a positive impact, just start with what you're passionate about and then dive deep," Gitanjali said.
Time's "Kid of the Year" broadcast special will air Friday at 5:30 p.m. MT on Nickelodeon.
This story was originally published by Óscar Contreras on KMGH in Denver.