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More often than not, the best decisions in life are made when you listen to your heart. This is exactly how Zoe Schneider ended up in Valencia, Spain. She heard about the Berklee Study Abroad program through a professor in Boston but didn’t give it much thought for a few days. Then one night, she was overtaken by this feeling of adventure. “I literally ripped the covers off of myself at like 3:00 a.m. and immediately went to my computer and just applied to the program,” says Schneider. That’s how this exceptional story begins.
The 20 year old from Warrenville, a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, flourished in Valencia as a powerful communicator and for her involvement in socially led initiatives. “I think what triggered this passion was my own experience with diversity. Within me exists quite a bit of intersectionality, and as an adopted, black, female lesbian I have had no opportunity to escape diversity. Honestly I wouldn’t want to,” she says.
Schneider was the cornerstone for many campus initiatives like HeforShe, African American History Month, and HERoes—a global initiative with a heart for diversity in the music industry—, and was key in launching student-led initiatives like Peace Week in the aftermath of the various terrorist attacks that occurred in Europe in 2015. “Zoe was one of the students leading this initiative, and together they [the students] created a great banner that collected community members’ pro-peace signatures that greeted all visitors to the Valencia campus,” says Clara Barberá, director for Student Affairs.
“What all these things really came down to was the ‘yes.’ Either me saying yes to beautiful opportunities to engage with the Valencian or Berklee community, or finding someone to say yes to my desire to create something that I noticed didn’t exist on campus, or exist in the most optimal capacity,” says Schneider. Once the yes was there, it would be a matter of finding the right team to make it happen. “My fellow students on the Valencia campus were so hardworking and open minded, everything was supported by committed and capable students who simply held the Berklee community to a high standard,” she says.
Barberá says, “Zoe has the very special ability to inspire others, not only her peers but everyone around her.” This sense of admiration is mutual; Schneider defines the environment at Berklee’s campus in Valencia as “empowering, nurturing, and very supportive” in the development of her own work. “To have the campus being led by brilliant and bold professionals, who are always leading by example, a fierce work ethic becomes almost contagious,” she says.
Leading with Passion
The secret to Schneider’s leadership skills is to make her work relevant and personal for those involved. Her experience has taught her that by finding some sort of connection or attachment to a cause, people will go above and beyond to fight for what matters to them. “If you are not lit up by what you’re talking about, nobody else will be either; do it with passion, or don’t do it at all,” she says.
Schneider is also very humble because she believes that a key part of this process is to open up a door for dialogue, to have arguments questioned, and even to be proven wrong in order to expand one’s horizons to different points of view.
Her TEDx talk, entitled Millennials: The Struggle Is Real, exemplifies her personality and skills. “As a 19 year old, giving a TEDx talk is kind of a daunting task, not because of the pressure or anything, but simply figuring out ‘what do I have a right to talk about?’” she questions.
Watch Schneider's TEDx talk:
She prepared the talk by interacting with very diverse groups of people and finding common connectors between everybody who she came into contact with. For Barberá, Schneider’s talk is “a great testament to who she is and to her ability to engage and call for action to an entire generation.”
Schneider explains that since she gave that talk, some universities, colleges, and organizations have reached out to her to give speeches and facilitate workshops. She is also a part of the 2017 TEDxBerkleeValencia production team.
Back in Boston to finish her major in music business/management, she is a proud ambassador of the Berklee Study Abroad program. “It’s really amazing because all I have to do is speak of my own experience and promote a program that has had such a positive and profound impact on my life. Almost everyone I talk to is intrigued and seems to crave the opportunity to go on a similar adventure,” she says.
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