Youth Changemaker: Peter Petrin

"Peter has an incredible record of success both engaging with government himself and engaging others in the work of government.  He truly understands what political power looks like for young people and works to build political power everyday with astonishing success."


-The Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council

Pete Petrin has devoted his college career to enhancing the participation of young people in government. His passionate commitment to this cause and his visionary approach to pursuing inspire many of his friends and peers.

Pete served for three years as a Generation Citizen Democracy Coach, a volunteer tasked with entering a local classroom and leading a group of students through a political action project. Pete did this work in some of the most challenging urban schools in Boston and faced students who were extremely pessimistic about their ability to effect change. Several of his students , he says, "felt like people in politics don't want to listen to youth because 'we're just kids.'"

Nonetheless, Pete was able to lead his students to action. His most recent group of students, for example, identified that substance abuse is a big problem in their community and a major source of local crime; they have been lobbying their Congressmen in support of a bill that would increase substance abuse rehabilitation services for juvenile offenders.

While each of Pete's projects empowered local students, Pete wanted to exponentially increase the impact he could have in local classrooms.

So he turned to policy. Pete became Chapter Director of Generation Citizen at Northeastern University. He grew the chapter from three Democracy Coaches to 25 and  now 60. He institutionalized Generation Citizen by incorporating it into the Northeastern's service-learning program and established it as a thought-leader on campus; it now provides training on political advocacy to other student organizations. Each year, the chapter provides nearly 2,000 students across Boston with training on effective political action.

As Pete was working to enhance the voices of local young people in government, he noticed that young people his own age were severely disenfranchised. Voter turnout among college students in Boston is very low, even though many city policies are to the significant detriment of college students—especially in housing and public transit. Resolving to change this, Pete became Student Body President of Northeastern University.

In this role, Pete was able to enhance student voice in Northeastern administrative decisions: he successfully advocated for expanding wireless access, improving campus sustainability, campus library and student life space renovations, upgrading technology used for residential safety and making sure student input was considered in university expansion and budgeting plans.

Pete also represented Northeastern students in the nation’s capitol this past spring, lobbying Congressmen for increased student financial aid and participating in a forum at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with national business leaders to discuss mutual interest in a successful higher education system.

More atypically for his role, however, Pete also enhances the college student voice in the city at large. He organized a voter registration drive in 2012 alongside fellow student leaders, school administrators, and community members that registered over 1,000 previously unregistered NU students. He also collaborated on a multi-campus initiative, partnering with BU, BC, UMass Boston and several other local colleges, to lobby for improvements to Boston’s public transit system. This joint movement has met several times with state Congressmen and is in the process of finally securing college student voice in issues of public transit in Boston.

Pete graduated from Northeastern University in May 2013 and is currently in the Mississippi Delta training to teach high school mathematics through the national service program Teach for America.

"The culture of decision-making in today's democracy centers around satisfying the needs and problems of the present, even when that requires to mortgage our nation's future through immutable policies and national debt," says Pete. "Youth are equal stakeholders in the success of our democracy and the ideas that they bring to the table are molded from an underrepresented perspective of having our national future in mind.  We cannot make decisions for the next generation if we want our nation to continue to prosper; we must make decisions with them."

"It's a thrill and an honor to be recognized as a Top 24 Under 24 Youth Changemaker, especially by an initiative working relentlessly to give a voice to those who need to be heard in our democracy," Pete continues. "I've had the incredibly opportunity to work with brilliant Boston youth and students with great capacity to be agents of change in their community, and we owe it to our democracy to make sure those voices are sought after by our decision-makers. This recognition affirms that value for me, and it's humbling to share this honor with so many forces for change and the empowerment of the next American generation."

This profile is one of the Top 24 Under 24 Youth Changemakers, a series hosted by SparkAction and the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council to recognize young changemakers influencing policy and practice at the local, state and national levels.

The members of the youth-led Campaign chose the 24 youth who are featured in this series, from entries submitted by peers and mentors. Read about the selection process.

We’re always looking for more profiles of young people making a difference, so submit one of your own!


Northeastern University/Generation Citizen