by Justine Hudock
Student Community Engagement, Knovva Academy
Mercedes is very sweet. That was my first impression of her when we spoke.
Mercedes is very passionate. That was my first impression of her when I, along with much of the Knovva staff, received a piece on the importance of addressing climate change that she wrote so eloquently following our recent Climate Change Summit.
What I learned about this Spanio-German, who has cooking competitions with her mother (judged by her devil-of-a-lucky-guy father), is that Mercedes is indeed very sweet, and very passionate.
Despite her shyness (which she confessed to near the end of our conversation, though you wouldn’t guess by her bubbly manner and easy eloquence), Mercedes kicks butt in Taekwondo (a recent black belt recipient; perhaps our readers will understand now why I’m being so generous with my praise). She is also a reader (the classics, preferably dystopic), musically inclined (piano, violin, and voice), and a polyglot (five languages down with one on the way).
I looked up the origin of her name, by the way. I assumed “Mercedes” had something to do with the ocean (the “mer-” part tipped me that way) which she’s so very fond of, but learned that the name actually means something like “gracious gifts.” That will be my lasting impression of her.
Give Mercedes a round of applause, and lend your eyes to her interview!
Justine Hudock: Tell the people! What’s your name, where are you from, how old are you, and what’s a silly fact about you?
Mercedes H. F.: My name is Mercedes, I’m 16 years old. I was born in Germany, but I lived most of my life in Spain, and now I live in the US, and a fun fact about me is that I speak five languages: Spanish, German, English, French, and Chinese, and right now, I’m learning Italian!
JH: Gosh, that’s so cool! Are you self taught, mostly? The German and Spanish, I presume, you learned from your parents.
MHF: Right: My mom’s Spanish my dad’s German, so I learned those languages together with English when I was very little. And French, I learned at school. Chinese Mandarin I learned by myself, also when I was very young. Now I’m learning Italian because in the future, I probably want to study in Europe for university, although it’s not set, but I really want to keep my options as broad as they can be. Italy is a country that I’ve always loved. I’ve never got the chance to visit, but I just love the way it sounds.
JH: Do you find that languages are something you’re very good at? Or do you have to work pretty hard at it?
MHF: A lot of people have told me that I have a general talent for languages. I don’t really see it as that; I see it as more just a fascination for me. It’s not a skill… more a passion.
JH: Can you tell me where your interest in climate change began? And it could be super recent, and you just happen to be super good at it. But tell me how it began.
MHF: As I mentioned, I was born in Germany, in a city in the south, which is basically surrounded by the Black Forest — my house was literally on the border of the city and the Black Forest. So every day, I would take super long walks in the forest with my parents, and I loved helping the wildlife, like slugs, you know, go from one road to the other and things like that. And so I think my fascination with nature was always there. And along the years, that fascination grew and took different phases.
When I was in middle school, I began really being obsessed with marine biology and marine creatures in general, and the oceans. And so I started focusing a lot on microplastics, and the dangers our oceans are facing with climate change. And I guess, just in general, over the years, my fascination with nature and my exposure to nature kind of developed into realizing that our environment is in critical danger. And that realization made me drive myself to think about ways in which I can help or I can collaborate with other people to help our climate.
JH: So in that respect, then, how does sustainability influence the way you act day to day, in response to believing that climate change is a really big problem?
MHF: I do, like many individuals across the world, a lot of small-scale things. At home, we recycle, we have always recycled, we come again from this European background, especially German background, where it’s ingrained in our culture to be more aware of our consumption and how we’re giving back to the environment. We’re very cautious about our water usage, and we tend to cook at home pretty much all the time. So it’s just these individual steps we take as a family and I think a lot of families around the world do that too. And I think that’s crucial. Because those small things, even though they don’t seem like much, they actually make a pretty big impact in the end.
JH: You’re so right. And it’s also just a much more pleasant way to live, isn’t it? Going off that, do you have any specific advice for other young people who might be interested in becoming more mindful of sustainability and climate change?
MHF: I feel like the younger generations, they’re driven, but somehow they tend to have the mentality that maybe what they do on an individual level is not enough, and that they can’t really reverse climate change, because we’re already so far into the problem. But my response to that, and my general advice is, you know, even the tiniest changes make a huge difference collectively. I mean, all we’re trying to do is to make sure we have a future, right? So let’s just get there and take any path we can. We’ll take any ideas you have. Start small and grow from there.
JH: What do you do for fun outside of school? And what do you do for extracurriculars besides Model G20 Summits?
MHF: I’m a really sporty person. Unfortunately, with a pandemic, I had to stop some sports that I used to do, but I am able to keep up with Taekwondo. I recently got my black belt! I love cooking, too. Related to my climate change interest, I do a podcast at school, which details on the current issues and the future issues we will face as a planet due to climate change and what we can do to kind of mitigate the challenges that we’re facing right now. I’m also super musical: I play piano, the violin, and I sing. And I read; just escape into the book if life is getting stressful.
JH: If you could invent anything that would make life easier for people, what would you invent?
MHF: Well, this is definitely far from becoming a reality, but I’d introduce something that could substitute or completely eradicate currency, and money. Money has always controlled us throughout history and the problems we face, including climate change, if you think about it that way, they’re all sourced with money and power. And one of the reasons why we’re still stuck in those problems is because we’re so afraid to lose money.
JH: I keep hearing these inklings about you that make me aware that you have a lot of opportunities for leadership in your life. So tell me, what is your perspective on good leadership? What does it mean to evolve as a leader?
MHF: I think the biggest part of being a good leader is having the drive to listen; knowing that it’s not always about you and your ideas. As a leader, you have a responsibility to step back and listen to what your teammates want to say, and what they have to say and let their voices be heard. Because, in my opinion, a good leader is only a good leader because it has a good team to support that leader. As to the second part of the question, what it means to evolve, or how do you evolve as a leader… evolving as a person is all about learning from experience and learning from past mistakes. And that’s also, I think, a key characteristic a leader — a good leader, at least — should be able to have, which is to acknowledge your mistakes.
JH: Let’s finish this with a bang: Tell me one thing that people might be surprised to learn about you.
MHF: I may appear very open, but in reality, I’m a super shy person. I don’t like to expose a lot of myself. I’m very shy; I take a lot of time to open up, even though it might appear that I’m very open.
Class at school?
I would definitely say biology. And that’s because first of all, biology has a lot of links to the end climate change environment, but also organisms, and especially us, and how, in general, life works.
I really like dystopian novels. I just find them super interesting, because they kind of give a different reality to the reality we’re living in. If I have to choose, probably my favorite book would be The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. It’s such a dense book, so you have to reread it a thousand times to fully understand it. But it covers so many interesting themes, like corruption, and then there are even links to the environment, which I find interesting.
I love Spanish food. It’s just part of me — all of it. I love German food, too: their sausages and things like that. I really like those two cuisines.
Orange! There’s just something about it. It just makes me feel energized. But also, calm, somehow. It’s weird.
“One individual cannot possibly make a difference alone. It is individual efforts, collectively, that makes a noticeable difference — all the difference in the world.” — Dr. Jane Goodall