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My 18 Under Eighteen Experience – Former Honoree Zach Betz


Headshot of Zach Betz, a caucasian teenage boy with brown hair wearing a plaid flannel.

Image caption: Headshot of Zach Betz, former 18 Under Eighteen honoree

Being a child on the autism spectrum made me feel very alone and mentally burdened, often seeing myself as more of a number that just moved through the system rather than a human being. In eighth grade, when I finally decided to be determined and come out from the shadows, I experienced many moments of struggle and achievement over the next five years. Among my accomplishments, one continues to stand out to me – being an 18 Under Eighteen honoree for Junior Achievement of Western Pennsylvania. I was nominated because of my work as a leader of SHOUT, an organization at my school that focuses on leadership and development for all students. After getting nominated, the rest of the process was extremely enjoyable, and it honestly blew my mind to meet so many incredible people and learn about their experiences and work within their communities. I will admit that I felt out of place at first, because, while everyone said differently, I constantly questioned if it was a mistake for me to be there.  

I was mainly nominated for my leadership and public speaking skills. Yet, there was a kid aiding in cancer research, a young woman who started her own business at the young age of 10 and many more honorees who were doing extremely incredible things at such young ages. But there I was, being seen as one of them. Today, the other honorees have become great friends and partners for future projects that can continue to make an impact on our region. 

For anyone who is interested in becoming an honoree, the most important part is the interview. In my opinion, the best thing that you can do when it’s time for your interview is specifically focus on explaining what makes you great and how your past accomplishments are proof of that. This may sound obvious, but I hear a lot of stories about people during interviews who talk too much about what they do rather than how they, themselves, make a difference in their ventures. After the interview, I would honestly say that things are smooth sailing, and you get to attend enjoyable events such as media day and the professional awards ceremony. I really enjoyed the awards ceremony because of how clear it was that the people in attendance cared about us and showed legitimate intrigue in every member of our 18 Under Eighteen class. That was honestly the best thing about the entire experience for me.  

Growing up with a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum and the viewpoint that I was always going to be a part of the system in the form of a statistic left me feeling very cold and mentally destroyed as a child. But being surrounded by people who saw me, my struggles and my accomplishments of both overcoming and educating others on such struggles helped me see my own worth and abilities. 18 Under Eighteen was a profound accomplishment that really helped me see how much I grew over the last five years. My younger self would be shocked that I am the person I am today, but they would also be proud and excited for what the future holds. 

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