From the Editors: Erie Reader's 40 Under 40 Turns Ten
Sometimes you get so caught up looking forward to the future, that you forget to look back at the past, or observe the present. Here's to doing both.
Ten years ago, the Erie Reader published what would become one of its marquee annual issues: A list of 40 individuals living in Erie County, Pennsylvania under the age of 40 doing remarkable things worthy of recognition.
It was an idea new to Erie, but not elsewhere. Publications nationwide have, and continue to, run lists like these — ones that celebrate the remarkable achievements of a town, city, or region's young people. Those around at the time — including me — thought: Why not publish such a list for Erie? So, we did.
Ten years ago means it was 2013. It happened to be April — just over two years since the Reader had first launched. Then, we were building a reputation. We were gaining traction, proving that Erie both wanted and needed an independent alternative publication. Two years in, when looking for adjectives to define the Reader, readers might've said: Young.
Those of us around then are older now. Some are still under 40, but not by much; others over. Since then, we've added writers young and old alike. We've gone from two(!) people writing the first 40 entries to a stable of eight writers taking on five mini profiles a piece.
We've gone from some humble gatherings to raise a pint or two to blowout events in partnership with the Young Erie Professionals to create "The 40 Under 40 Experience." We've gone from trying to feature photos of most included on the lists to featuring all of them, thanks to talented on-staff photographer and new media coordinator Jessica Hunter. We've also gone from early covers featuring five of the 40 honorees to slick, eye-catching covers designed by our current managing editor Nick Warren.
Some who've been featured in past years have gone on to do even more remarkable things, meriting follow-up features in recent years. Some have used being listed as a résumé bullet point to get promotions. Or better jobs. Or means to get further connected. Volunteer more. Expand their networks.
Others have moved away from Erie, lost jobs, gotten fired, or went on quietly doing nothing more or nothing less.
Life — in many directions — has a way of happening.
That matters less than the fact that each year, we've featured just 40 young people doing remarkable things in this specific moment in time. Each year, this snapshot in time says clearly: Erie's young people are impressive, dynamic, and give a damn about the place where they live, work, learn, give, grow, and play.
Because we were starting something new in Erie, the editorial board generated the first list. Back then, we thought it'd be five years before the community at large would take over, supplying the majority of the nominations. That happened by year three.
Today, hundreds of nominations pour in for the Erie Reader editors to pore over and vote on. The nomination process on the website is much more sophisticated and streamlined, and is getting better every year.
This happens every year, not out of routine, but because community makes it happen. Without your nominations, there wouldn't be a list. We designed this to be a community-led initiative, and the community has continued to — year in and year out — lead it.
It's worth celebrating this because while some understood what it was, and its purpose, others scoffed, telling us we'd be out of names in just a couple of years. Ten years later, we celebrate honoring 400 individual names. We concluded our inaugural introduction by saying "in your face, brain drain." It's worth saying that again.
It's also worth saying again why doing this matters. A measure of the civic vitality of a place is to take stock of how engaged its young people are. Do they do more than clock in and clock out of jobs? Do they volunteer in their community? Do they try new things? Create new businesses? Search for new answers to new and old challenges? Do they stay because they want to? Do they move in and plug in because they want to?
In Erie, 10 years ago, the answer was yes. It remains the same today, even though challenges and opportunities, circumstances and conditions have inevitably changed.
Those that told us we'd exhaust Erie's young talent in just a few years have something in common with those who saw the billboard in Seattle in 1971 that read: Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights? They thought: Yup, things are so shitty here that young people won't want to stay here, they're all headed out elsewhere to pursue prospects, our place is destined for darkness. They thought the city and region's best days were in the past.
We disagreed 10 years ago, and still disagree today. We believe Erie's, and the region's, best days are ahead thanks in large part to the font of youth.
So, to this year's 40, cheers and congrats! And to the 360 that came before them, cheers and congrats! And more importantly: Thanks for not just leaving the light on; thanks for making it brighter than before.
Special thanks to Ben Speggen for penning this edition of From The Editors. Ben served as managing editor of the Erie Reader from its inception until September 2015 and remains an editor-at-large. Find him on Twitter @benspeggen.
Do you know someone who you would like to see in the 2023 class? Our online nominations are now open!