When planning began for the I, Too, Am the Dream contest in January, we set out to create a program that would draw young people into the conversation about the American Dream – about what it means today and what it might mean reimagined for the future. Knowing what we know now – that a global pandemic and national unrest around racial inequities were on the near horizon – would have only strengthened our conviction that bringing together a diverse set of voices to explore the present and to share their vision for the future, is more critical than ever.

Our nation’s youth represent a voice that should be heard, especially as we think about future generations and what the American Dream will mean to them. Open to rising high school seniors, the I, Too, Am the Dream contest focused on “empowering students to reimagine an inclusive and evolving vision of opportunity and access and drive a bold national conversation to advance and grow the American Dream for themselves and others, now and into the future.”

Global competitions that connect the public with the Milken Center for Advancing the American Dream will be core to the work we do at the Center. By mobilizing passionate voices around one or more of our key pillars, or spotlighting innovative solutions to tomorrow’s most pressing challenges, contests and competitions will not only inform how we engage with the public about our mission, but also lay the groundwork for innovation and lasting impact.

As our very first activity, we aimed to accomplish a number of objectives with the I, Too Am the Dream contest: listen to youth voices, highlight their activism, catalyze their action and help to shine a light on where individuals and institutions might focus to secure a bright future for all of our young people. Working in collaboration with a group of Milken Educators*, “we sought to design a competition that would serve as a lasting platform for students to continue the conversation in their schools, in their communities.” As one Milken Educator said, "Today’s students are the harbingers of change, and the contest provides a forum for them to reimagine an American Dream that is inclusive of everyone.”

Following the announcement of the fifteen finalists and the three winners, I want to take a moment to celebrate all the contest has accomplished thus far. Each of the more than 700 entries we received (far exceeding our aspirations) had something meaningful to say. In this time of uncertainty and unrest, their submissions recognized the hard realities that many of them face.  At the same time, the submissions were filled with messages of resilience, inclusivity, hope and optimism. Their voices are wise beyond their years, full of passion and conviction. In the coming days, you, too, will have the opportunity to learn more about the 15 finalists and the three winners, and can now read their submissions yourself at www.mcaad.org.

For our part, we are committed to curating what we learn and to amplifying the findings. We owe a debt of gratitude to all who lent their voices to this conversation, laying an incredible foundation for us to both inform how we engage with researchers and policy-makers in the future and, perhaps more importantly, support an ongoing national dialogue around a reimagined American Dream. Our work at MCAAD is just beginning. Making the American Dream an attainable reality for people all over the world isn’t something that will happen overnight – it will take time, and it will take the focus and commitment of many. We are excited to have started this journey with our youth.

*Milken Educators represent a growing group of early-to-mid career education professionals who have been recognized by the Milken Family Foundation for their already impressive achievements and, more significantly, for the promise of what they will accomplish in the future.