It is one of the most frequently used quotes to describe the efforts of citizens, movements and determined individuals to impact change.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world," anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Of course, Mead was right. But like any quote, it can sometimes seem like a cliché. And then there are moments that bring its vivid meaning to the fore.
On July 9, in a courthouse in White Plains, New York, a judge took the unusual step of publicly praising a group of plaintiffs who had filed suit in his court.
"[W]hatever you do, from what little I know of you . . . you're going to do well, because you are awfully impressive people."
That was Judge Kenneth M. Karas addressing some of the students who brought suit against New York's Pine Bush School District after enduring years of horrendous anti-Semitic harassment and bullying. The settlement in their case, which Judge Karas approved on July 9, will result in sweeping changes to the District's policies and include strong steps to address, and prevent, any future bullying.
"So I thank you for having the courage to come into court and say the things you said in the presence of everybody here," Judge Karas said, "and I understand the difficulties you have gone through, but I commend you for your courage even in just being here today on top of everything else that you've done. So, thank you for that."
It was a moving acknowledgment that, at a time when many young people are referred to as being part of the "me generation," addicted to selfies, cell phones and celebrity culture, there are still many who aspire to be the "Mead generation," helping to change the world for the better.
The students in the case weren't required to speak in court, but several of them did, and told the judge why they were moved to take action.
"No kid should have to walk through the halls of their school and go through what I went though," one said. "NO kid should have to see what I saw on the desks or walls. ... I'm glad to see that the school agreed to all the reforms. Even though I went through horrible things, if one more child doesn't have to go through what I went through, think I think I made a big difference."
"My . . . thoughts about this case are that I really hope it will save other children and their families from lost years, pain and their loss of innocence," said another, adding that, "The one thing I can say that has come out of this case is that I realize I want to do something more with my life . . . I will become an advocate for those who have been and are being bullied. In the future, I want to share my experiences with kids in elementary and middle schools around the country. Hopefully, one day, I can say that I have made a significant contribution to putting bullying to an end for good."
"And if you want to go on to become advocates of some kind," Judge Karas said during the hearing, "I can tell you right now, you're going to be really good at that."
There was a lot of heavy lifting in the Pine Bush case. Judge Karas noted that "Public Justice has spent 583.15 hours in attorney time on this case," and the Public Justice attorney was just one of three involved in the case.
But it was the students -- who continue to speak out -- who made the real difference. Because they and their families took a stand, others will be protected from bullying and harassment.
"I must admit that I personally measure success," Margaret Mead also once said, "in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her or his fellow human beings."
By that measure, these young people have already won.