Meet the youngest speaker at New England’s largest education technology conference

He’s met President Obama.

Maxwell Surprenant, the 12-year-old winner of the MassCUE student speaker competition. —Photo courtesy of Joy Surprenant

In a video posted on YouTube in January, then 11-year-old Maxwell Surprenant speaks slowly and deliberately in a speech addressed to his “friend,’’ President Barack Obama.

“Here’s what I believe,’’ he says, then holds up his right pointer finger while his left hand smooths his tie. “One, every child and person, young and old has something unique and wonderful to give to the world. Two, if we can help somebody, we should. We must. And, three, the joy is in the giving.’’

These are the values that have been instilled in the Needham native since he was 5 years old, when he founded (with help from his parents) a nonprofit called Catching Joy, which promotes volunteerism by young children and their families.


The video won Surprenant a trip to the White House to meet his friend, the president, and an honorable mention in the White House Student Film Festival competition.

Now, he’s bringing the same values he talked about in his speech back home, where he’ll be the youngest speaker at the MassCUE technology conference.

The conference, which begins Wednesday at Gillette Stadium, is the largest education technology conference in New England. Much emphasis has been placed on increasing the quality of and access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education in the past few years, including by President Obama.

But Surprenant’s mom Joy said he’s not necessarily what she would call a “tech kid.’’

“He doesn’t watch TV— except for sports games and family movies,’’ she said. “He doesn’t play video games. He doesn’t have his own phone, and his computer time is limited and supervised.’’

But the sixth grader still considers technology central to his volunteer mission, which is what he’ll talk about in his speech Thursday.

“I have this acronym I use that’s really easy to remember,’’ he said. “IEAT, get it, like ‘I eat?’ I stands for Ideas, E for Entertain, A for Action, and T stands for Tell and Technology. And I think everyone can use this.’’


He’s seen it work. Last year, Surprenant had the idea to send birthday cards to his friend Bennett Olsen, who had cancer. He posted a call for cards on the Catching Joy Facebook page, and the message was reposted by hundreds of people. More than 2,000 people from around the world ended up mailing birthday cards for Bennett.

He’s also used social media to help with a project he created in memory of Martin Richard, who was killed in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Surprenant had people mail in paper hearts with two words on them that were inspirational and personal to them. He then had a friend make a video featuring the more than 1,000 hearts he received, which he sent to the Richard family to show them that people all over the world were thinking of them.

Surprenant listed dozens of projects he plans on pursuing after he speaks at MassCUE, from writing books to a social media campaign for the Jimmy Fund. But, he said, through all of them, he wants to show the grown ups he’s talking to how easy it is to make a difference.

“I think a lot of people get busy and think they need to help in a very big way,’’ he said. “But a lot of people use Facebook and social media already. Just doing something small, like spreading a message or a hashtag can really add up.“

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