In his 24 years of life, Zander Srodes has accomplished more than most 20 somethings can even imagine. He has published three children’s books on turtles and tortoises. He has traveled the world to spread awareness on sea turtle conservation. He met and married his wife within five weeks and, next fall, he will graduate from Marshall University with a bachelor’s degree in History.
Srodes can now add motivational speaker to his extensive résumé. Interventionist Cheryl Jonese asked Srodes to speak to students at Marlinton Middle School, Green Bank Middle School and Pocahontas County High School as part of the Innovation Zone Dropout Prevention program.
Jonese works with Srodes’ mother, Jean, and was inspired when Jean shared Zander’s story.
“She saw my Ted talk [TEDxteen] speech I gave in 2011,” Zander said. “The theme of the speech was to go out and find something that motivates you to wake up in the morning and want to enact change in the world. The idea is that everybody is very capable of positive change but most people don’t know why they want to do that or how to do that.”
Zander spoke at PCHS Monday and shared his experiences, including a video clip of his TEDxteen talk. According to the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) website, www.tedx teen.com, “TED is an annual event where some of the world’s leading thinkers and doers are invited to share what they are most passionate about.”
“Once you’re able to find that reason to wake up in the morning, it’s a lot easier to do that,” Zander said.
The story began with a rambunctious 11-year-old who was on the verge of making some bad decisions. Instead of joining the wrong crowd, Zander was pushed to do something better with his time.
“I was pushed into doing something productive by my mother who didn’t want me sitting around the house all day,” he said. “She recognized that I was a terrible student and I was only going to be getting in trouble. She wanted me to do something that could maybe carry me through my life.”
Inspired by a chance meeting with a sea turtle expert, Zander found his vision and, at 11-years-old, wrote “Turtle Talks Activity Book” which he shared with schools in his hometown of Sarasota, Florida.
“The fact that I wrote this book was really big for some people and I never understood why but as soon as I opened my mouth, I got all these opportunities,” Zander said.
The book has been published in four languages with more than 100,000 copies in circulation.
Due to its popularity, Zander traveled all over the world to share his book with conservation and marine life entities.
“First I went to Costa Rica when I was fifteen” he said. “I was down there working with indigenous groups. In 2006, I went to Trinidad. In 2007, I attended a Sea Turtle Symposium in Mexico. I was the youngest person there presenting. At this time, I still didn’t really understand why people were recognizing me for this stuff. It seemed like a very trivial thing that I was spending a couple weekends out of the school year going to do talks with kids on conservation.”
The travel continued with trips to Panama in 2007, Japan in 2009 and New York. Zander also spoke to the United Nations.
“I had this thing that I was doing that was bigger,” he said. “It meant something. It was opening doors for me. I was able to accomplish things that I wouldn’t have been able to dream of when I was twelve.”
Zander offered a challenge to every student at the school. A challenge to find a passion and follow through with it, similar to what he did with the sea turtle project.
“Go out there and find something that means something,” he said. “If you find something you think you can change, or you want to change, you take that first step. Taking the first step is the hardest part. You’ve got to put yourself out in the world because it is so big. It’s amazing how big it is and once you start taking steps, they continue to carry you.”
After graduating from Marshall University, Zander plans to take the LSAT and apply to law school where he will study environmental law. He currently resides in Huntington with his wife, Kristina Anastasova.
Zander is the son of Joel and Jean Srodes, of Marlinton.
To view Zander’s TEDxteen speech and a video about “Turtle Talks,” visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZR214wjIfA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crqigKSBrPw
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at email@example.com