Aerin Bell isn’t afraid to challenge people on their beliefs. The 14-year-old is an active member of the gay-straight alliance at her school and regularly speaks up against the prejudices directed against members of the LGBTQ community.

“I like to do my best to help those who are different,” she says, noting she has had several firsthand experiences helping friends who came out and didn’t receive the support they needed, prompting her to step in. “I’d like to see freedom for everyone.”

A true leader, Bell doesn’t speak off the top of her head. She does her research, forms her own opinions and works to consider the perspectives of others, even when she doesn’t agree with them.

“I go by the saying ‘seek first to understand, then be understood,’” says Bell. “I like people to know the truth … and I do my best to understand where they are coming from.”

Danica Power, Bell’s teacher, says the teen is not only strong academically, but is also passionate, driven and empathetic.

“She has a kind word for everyone,” says Power, adding Bell is also active in other roles at her school. “She is incredibly mature and carries herself with wisdom and an excellent joie de vivre.”