Wanaka student Max Hall's smile is extra big this week after spending an evening with The Duke and Duchess of Sussex in Auckland on Tuesday. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern invited the Mount Aspiring College (MAC) head boy to join her at the event she hosted for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on their 16-day royal tour of New Zealand.
Prince Harry, who is the overseer of youth within the Commonwealth, and the Duchess had the opportunity to meet the country's youth leaders and those who are a part of youth-led organisations. Hall was invited to the soiree due to his Diana Award and his work with Sticks 'n Stones. Hall was the first New Zealand recipient of the Diana Award, which recognises the selfless commitment of transforming lives of others.
Hall was the youngest youth who attended the reception and left the evening inspired after his conversations with the Royal couple and his fellow peers.
"Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave a speech and made a very good point, which I felt quite humbled by, and she said to the youth, 'you guys here, you're under the impression that you're here to meet The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, whereas in truth, they're actually are here to meet you.' I was very starstruck by that," said Hall.
Hall said after Prince Harry gave a speech that touched upon areas of mental health and youth leadership, he walked around with Ardern to meet and mingle with the various groups followed by the Duchess. Hall's group consisted of recipients of the Queen's Young Leaders Awards and Diana Award, including a co-founder of Sticks 'n Stones.
Hall said he was stuck by the conversation he personally had with the Duchess. "I asked her as my final question, 'how would you influence and inspire young people to get involved with or start up youth-leadership groups or programmes?' And she said, 'if not you, then who?' That really resonated with me and stuck with me; I am so glad I asked that question as there is so much power and truth to that message."
Hall said Ardern's invitation was a surprise. "I just did my work because I loved it and I wanted to give back and be part of something bigger than myself, and the Diana Award was a shock enough; I was so grateful to receive that and then this, it just keeps getting better.”
Sticks 'n Stones is a multi award-winning, youth-driven bullying prevention organisation, which was started by Karla Sanders in Alexandra in 2013.
Hall joined the group early in its inception and helped bring the group to Wanaka alongside other students. The organisation is currently launching various projects, including a free web app called In Case of Online Negativity (ICON) that gives teenagers options to troubleshoot online negativity and take charge of their time online.
Seventeen-year-old Hall is in Year 13 at MAC and has his sights set on London to study fashion design, but told the Wanaka Sun that he is keeping his options open.