“It’s no secret that the world is a hellscape right now,” said “Special” creator Ryan O’Connell to knowing laughs at the inaugural celebration for the Time 100 Next List, “but nights like tonight remind me that there’s still hope.”
O’Connell was joined on Thursday night by fellow honorees, including Awkwafina and Keke Palmer, to toast to a brighter future. Everyone selected for the list, a new companion piece for Time’s longstanding most influential list, was selected as a luminary for change. The party took over a floor of Manhattan’s sprawling venue at Pier 17, with buffets complemented by VR experiences, a Citibank installation featuring images of skeptical children “learning about the wage gap for the first time,” and United Airlines granting attendees free bonus miles. Around the corner, honorees like “Slave Play” writer Jeremy O. Harris took advantage of a flashy photo booth.
“When I look at this list, I see people who defy the odds,” said Time executive editor Dan Macsai before ceding the floor to Maggie Rogers, who quickly got the seated crowd on its feet. In between performances of her hit songs, including “Give a Little” and “Fallingwater,” Rogers looked out at the crowd and laughed, “this is very strange and very cool.”
The evening’s program was a mix of speeches, performances from Rogers and Camila Cabello, “inspirational moments” and quick interviews. In conversation with Time correspondent Justin World, Costa Rica president Carlos Alvarado Quesada affirmed his commitment to substantively tackling climate change as a national leader, while Awkwafina expressed hope to Time national correspondent Charlotte Alter that “the mirage of diversity” in Hollywood is giving way to actual change. Glossier CEO Emily Weiss used her time to shout out teen girls for being particularly “inclusive and kind,” while Representative Lauren Underwood, who recently flipped a seat in Illinois, emphasized the importance of taking women’s health care — and particularly that of black women — seriously. “I feel a sense of urgency to not just legislate,” Underwood said, “but save lives.”
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Many acknowledged that not everything looks so bright in today’s world, but also that there is reason to be optimistic still. “Not to be a bitch, but society is a giant ableist asshole,” said O’Connell, who’s written and spoken extensively about his experience navigating both Hollywood and the world as a gay man with cerebral palsy. “[But] we’re no longer waiting for people to consider us, we’re doing it ourselves….we’re building a new world and it’s gonna be chic, and handicap accessible.”
Later remarks echoed this sentiment. “We’re going through a lot right now as a society, but what I’m seeing is a lot of brave and bold voices speaking up,” said Awkwafina, a point almost immediately made when Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman took the stage shortly thereafter. “When my faith with others was shaken, I looked inward,” Raisman said. “Once I pushed back the judgment and fear, I rediscovered a deeper goodness … this is the most powerful fuel for change. This is what makes me hopeful.”