Nadya is a member of the Class of 2020 at Harvard College, the Founder & Executive Director of PERIOD, and a former candidate for Cambridge City Council.
“I am Nadya Okamoto, and I approve this message.” Words generally spoken by veteran politicians – and ambitious young changemakers like Nadya Okamoto. As a first-year student at Harvard College last year, Nadya launched a campaign for a seat on the Cambridge City Council. She was a pioneer, leading the way towards a new political future in which educational equity, housing affordability and youth involvement are at the forefront of policymaking.
“It was one of the most exhausting and terrifying, yet also meaningful experiences of my life,” Nadya says about her run, which was ultimately unsuccessful but resulted in a historic turnout of young voters at the polls. She is quick to credit much of the campaign’s momentum to her incredible staff and supporters, and concludes that, given the chance, she would do it all over again. Not only did the experience add to her political chops, but it also taught her important life lessons, like the fact that hearing “you’re too young, you’re not good enough, this isn’t going to take off,” is inevitable.
Her run for public office was hardly the first time Nadya has made waves. At the age of 16, she founded PERIOD, a nonprofit which “provides and celebrates menstrual hygiene through service, education and policy.” She has grown the organization with a nationwide network of chapters on college campuses and recently wrote Period Power, a book which elaborates on what she calls the Menstrual Movement (now available for pre-order).
What’s next for Nadya? She is hosting a new web series, Nadya Talks, starring in a documentary about herself for Breaktide Productions, and awaiting the launch of her book, which is being published by Simon & Schuster in October!
1. What is your background?
I grew up between New York City and Portland, Oregon. For the first part of my life, I was in New York and then my mom moved me and my sisters out to Oregon. Until I was 17, I was actually living about a 1/3rd of the year in New York because my dad used to live there and we were still in contact with him then.
I’m currently a sophomore at Harvard College studying Social Studies.
2. How did your nonprofit PERIOD come about and what is its mission?
PERIOD is a global, youth-run NGO that provides and celebrates menstrual hygiene through service, education and policy. We do so through the global distribution of menstrual products to people in need, the engagement of youth leadership through a nationwide network of campus chapters and we push for policies towards systemic change around menstrual equity on campuses and also from the local to the federal level. So we’re both a 501(c )(3) and a 501(c)(4) organization.
I founded the organization when I was 16 in December of 2014 after my family experienced what it was like living without a home of our own. That was a really big experience for me of learning to empathize at a deeper level about what it means to live on a spectrum of privilege.
3. How can our readers get involved with your organization?
Readers can get involved with the organization at Period.org! We are also constantly recruiting for new chapter leaders as well and volunteer groups to host packing parties. The best way to support the organization is to donate at period.org/donate – every $2 contributed addresses one more period!
4. Congratulations on your run for Cambridge City Council! What was the experience like?
Thank you! It was one of the most exhausting and terrifying, yet also meaningful experiences of my life. It was crazy, it was like 4 to 6 hours of canvassing every day on top of work and school.
It was an experience of learning how much more personal politics is than it is political, which is something that was really deep for me to learn. It was also an experience of learning to be unapologetically myself because it was one where I was getting more hate and I was more transparent than ever before about my life, my identity, and what I stood for. People were constantly asking me what I was passionate about and it provided a lot of clarity for me on a personal level.
It was also an extremely important learning experience for me. I was learning everything about issues I care about, like housing affordability, education equity and sustainable living and how that all factors in at the municipal level of government.
5. If you had to do it all over again, would you?
I would – because I think there’s a lot I could have done better. But I don’t know if I will actually run again. It depends on whether I think that my candidacy adds something really unique.
6. What is the scariest part of launching a new venture or campaign?
Knowing that you’re going to have to hear “no” a lot. It’s not “Is it going to be a success or is it not going to be a success,” it’s saying “I am going to hear the word ‘no’ a lot and I’m ready for that. You’re going to hear “You’re too young, you’re not good enough, this isn’t going to take off.” If you are ready to hear that, you can just keep pushing if you really believe in it.
7. What are some things you’re excited about right now?
I’m really excited for the summer because I have a book coming out with Simon & Schuster in the fall, so I’m super excited about that. [The book] is also about the menstrual movement.
8. Can you tell me about a time you faced an obstacle and what you learned from it?
Running for office and being told by peers and strangers that they didn’t believe in me and some days I heard that more than supportive comments. That was an obstacle because it really influenced my mental health and self-confidence. I learned that I just had to keep the issues I cared about at the forefront of my mind because that was why I was doing what I was doing.
9. How do you balance your college coursework and social life with all your extracurricular projects?
I balance things by – I don’t know if I balance things – but I try. I live by Google Calendar and to-do lists. I love making to-do lists and checking things off. I also make sure to go to the gym once a day because that’s an investment in myself.
10. What is one key tip for success?
Self-care! Take care of yourself. Sometimes I have the problem of being so motivated that it overtakes my self-care – I’ve burned out before from exhaustion, when I was in high school. I really keep in mind that I’m my best self and can support other people and my work more when I’m on top of my game.
11. If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?
Take more breaths. I do struggle with being stressed out a lot and choosing my work over relationships. Over the last few years, I wish I would have taken more time to breathe and be proud of myself. That’s something I really struggle with, even now.
12. What is your vision for the future?
A world in which every human can discover and reach their full potential regardless of their natural needs. Whether that’s housing or periods, that’s the vision I see.
Some facts about Nadya:
- Her favorite podcast is “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
- One thing people would be surprised to learn about her is that she loves “to eat. I don’t know if people would be surprised by that but I just love to eat. I’m a comfort and a stress-eater. I really love cheese and pasta and bread with honey.”
- She loves the moments after her speaking gigs when young girls line up to talk to her and share their stories. “That’s a big reason why I push myself to tell my own story.”
- Her New Year’s resolution was “to be more in touch with my racial identity. I’ve just recently come into comfort with being Asian-American and I’ve been writing about it a lot.
- She would love to meet “Oprah.”
Photographer: Sydney Claire Altschuler
Introduction: 🖋️ Adelle Goldenberg
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.