Ever since she was a little girl growing up in Shoreview, Anna Grace Hottinger has been self-motivated and remarkably focused on the things that are important to her, according to her mother Kathryn Hottinger.
“As a parent, I’ve had to stand back and watch and support her in the things she takes a lead on. She finds a niche and she moves forward,” Kathryn said. “When she sets her sights on something, she just goes and gets it done. My job is to be her cheerleader, support her, and try not to get in her way.”
When Anna Grace noticed that tobacco products such as e-cigarettes were growing in popularity among her peers, she decided to take action. She helped organize students to speak at the Shoreview City Council meetings to advocate for raising the age at which people can legally buy tobacco from 18 to 21. Recently, she gathered supporters to ban sales of all flavored tobacco, including menthol, mint and wintergreen.
“The main drive for me to get involved in tobacco prevention,” Anna Grace said, “is that some members of my family have addiction issues. I saw how addiction drags people down and damages their lives, their livelihood and also the people around them. “I thought that getting involved with tobacco prevention would be a way to share my passion of tobacco prevention and keep people from doing that.”
Her advocacy caught the attention of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, who recognized her as a national youth ambassador. She became involved locally with the Association for Non-Smokers.
Anna Grace’s activism doesn’t end with tobacco prevention. She also is involved with climate justice and organizes at the local and state level.
“When I was in eighth grade, I realized the dire need to act on climate change and how our world is slowly but surely diminishing and withering away because of how we treat it,” she said. “That’s how I got engaged in climate justice organizing.”
She trains middle and high school students on different policies and how they can get involved at the local and state level. She also provides them with resources.
“Through these things, I’ve gotten to make incredible connections and meet prominent politicians and work on other campaigns and help lead other youth across the country working in their own cities on tobacco prevention and climate policies,” Anna Grace said. “It’s been super fun. A big part of what keeps me going is meeting people from all over the country.”
This activism earned Anna Grace a 30 under 30 Change Makers Award from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools this year. The award honors 30 exceptional young leaders who are connected in some way to charter schools and use their ideas, talents, and platforms to advance educational and economic opportunity and promote equality and social justice.
Anna Grace is humbled by the recognition and said it isn’t always easy dealing with issues that can be controversial. Kathryn says her daughter has had to deal with people posting negative comments online regarding her activism.
“She has had adults on her social media say incredibly impolite rude and insensitive things. It’s really horrifying, and it appalls me to no end that adults would speak with the youth that way,” Kathryn said. “There have been times where it’s been really heavy for her as a young person, but she marches forward because she says, ‘This is what I am doing.’ She has an inner compass about what is right, what she believes, and she just manages it. I find that admirable about her — and a little mysterious.”
Kathryn recalled a time when Anna Grace was at Chippewa Middle School on the cross-country team.
“She has a deep compassion for running and (for) people. In her second race, she intentionally finished last in order to stay with a friend who has some serious disabilities and always hated finishing in last place. During the last 100 yards, Anna Grace intentionally slowed down so her friend wouldn’t finish in last place. The next meet, Kathryn told Anna Grace that she would run with her friend, and Anna Grace won that meet,” Kathryn said. “She is very competitive, but she is also very compassionate.”
Kathryn said she worried about Anna Grace missing out on things during her teenage years because she was out trying to change the world, but realized that’s just who she is.
After graduating from high school in May from EdVisions Off Campus, a charter school in St. Paul, Anna Grace is spending her summer in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, leading zipline tours in the Great Smoky Mountains. “I just love the outdoors,” she said. In the fall, she is heading to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to attend St. John’s College to study the history of math, science and philosophy.
“My dream job is to be a public health lawyer and policy researcher, someone who researches and writes policy around public health,” Anna Grace said. “I hope the future will be fun and will include something outside.”