Extraordinary Teen Awards 2020

Even in dark times, there is hope. These recent graduates are the kinds of future leaders we need.
6 22 Teens Ela Gokcigdem

Ela Gokcigdem wearing the eco-friendly earbuds she invented

Ela Gokcigdem

Wakefield High School

On a spring break trip to the beach during her sophomore year, Ela Gokcigdem dove into the ocean and hit her head on the seafloor. The resulting concussion changed her life—but in a good way.

She became noise sensitive and decided to put her love of technology, the environment and entrepreneurship to work by inventing noise-canceling earbuds made with recycled plastic.

Gokcigdem has so far sold around 300 sets of earbuds through her website, epearltech.com, with plans to start selling them on Amazon now that she’s 18.

“I like to keep busy,” says the Arlington teen, grateful to have moved beyond that frustrating concussed time when she couldn’t look at screens or keep up with her studies.

Environmental stewardship is a passion for Gokcigdem, who has organized kayak cleanups of Four Mile Run and is a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.

Her latest venture, a nonprofit called the Youth Environmental Society (YES), centers on an environmental literacy course that awards a certification to participating high school students. She hopes it will inspire more teens to “integrate a sustainable mindset into any career path.” She expects it to launch in Arlington this August.

In addition to winning numerous business and entrepreneurial awards, including being named a Harvard Business Academy Best Entrepreneur, Gokcigdem speaks four languages, plays eight instruments and was active in numerous clubs and organizations. Among them: the History Honor Society, Wakefield’s varsity tennis and swim teams, Northern Virginia Symphonic Winds, the National Honor Society and the Arlington Sustainability Committee.

She’s headed to Babson College in Massachusetts this fall to study business, with a focus on environmental sustainability and social justice. Predictably, she has big dreams.

“I’d love to be a big billionaire and really set the path for social entrepreneurship,” says Gokcigdem. “I feel like that’s the only way a business can survive, especially with the current state of our environment.”

–Rina Rapuano

Categories: People
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