Courtesy of Ace Dufresne

At the age of 15, Ace Dufresne leads Sunrise Ithaca.

April 22, 2024

Ace Dufresne Leads Sunrise Ithaca at 15 Years Old

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Standing before a crowd of approximately twenty people anxious to hear about the latest climate legislation at Southside Community Center in February, Ace Dufresne was keenly aware of his most surprising quality — despite his seasoned presence within climate organizing, he is only 15 years old. 

While Dufresne’s age rarely directly affects his leadership of the Ithaca chapter of the Sunrise Movement — an organization advocating for local and national climate legislation — he said that his approach to organizing has been shaped by his perspective as a young person. 

Dufresne sees young people as striving for perfection with climate actions, which he believes comes from a distorted view of progress. Dufresne finds it more productive to strive for small improvements.

“From a net position of society being terrible, maybe we can move a little bit in the positive direction,” Dufresne said.

For as long as he can remember, Dufresne has been both civically engaged and interested in science. He is the son of two Cornell professors — Prof. Eric Dufresne, engineering and Prof. Alexandra Dufresne, public policy, who is also an immigration lawyer and advocate for refugees.

“I do have sort of a STEM side and the policy side and I’m sort of a weird combination of those. I am really happy and grateful to have both of those forces in my life,” Dufresne said. 

When Dufresne lived in Switzerland, he joined Young Greens, the youth organization of the nation’s Green Party. Dufresne latched on to the group but found it struggled to progress materially.

“With them, I was part of the queer feminist working group, and we mostly just chatted,” Dufresne said. “There was a lot of standing around on cold Sunday mornings at the farmers market being like, ‘Hey, have you heard of this thing?’” 

Still, Young Greens gave Dufresne a taste for organizing, building his dedication to utilizing activism to shift policy. While he found Switzerland to be much more culturally conservative and less receptive to climate action than Ithaca, his experience of a direct democracy very different from the United States system of government gave him hope. 

“I guess it’s just cool to see something that’s different and realize, the world we live in the U.S. is not the world that it has to be,” Dufresne said. 

Dufresne joined Sunrise Ithaca in July 2022, soon after moving back to the United States from Switzerland.

While Dufresne’s belief in the power of activism extended across many issues he cared about, he focused on climate issues because he felt most capable of organizing around them because of his perspective as a young person.

Dufresne said that leading as a 15-year-old inspires other young people to join in on climate action.

“I think I’m a great person to organize young people because I’m a young person, and I’ve seen plenty of adults try to organize young people to do stuff and fail miserably,” Dufresne said. 

Dufresne became the leader of Sunrise Ithaca in early 2023, when former leader Siobhan Hull ’24 spent a semester abroad in France.

Between keeping up with his schoolwork for Ithaca High School, writing for and managing his school’s newspaper and volunteering with ENGin — a service matching Ukranian teens with American teens to improve their English skills — Dufresne takes on around 10 hours of work for Sunrise Ithaca per week. 

Dufresne spends a lot of time meeting with other organizers to plan events and strategies, sending out newsletters to Sunrise Ithaca’s listserv, and coordinating with the press and with legislators. 

“People tend to think, ‘Oh, organizing – you mean you went to a rally,’’’ Dufresne said. “And I’m like, ‘No, that’s not what I mean. I mean, I have, but that is not most of it.’”

Given the grand scope of his work, Dufresne intentionally dedicates his energy to where he thinks it could best be used. 

While he considers himself a strong public speaker, he said he is less knowledgeable about the more technical aspects of climate policy and about organizing over social media. 

“Even if I had infinite time, I could not do everything. And I think the next best step is finding someone to do more and to also recruit more people,” Dufresne said.

Dufresne hopes to continue his work on climate action as long as it continues to be something he’s interested in and can contribute to meaningfully, as he looks toward college, medical school and adult life.

For now, Dufresne credits the diversity of strengths within his community as the foundation of effective and sustainable climate work. 

“I’m always looking at people and trying to figure out, … how can we use your strengths to make the most change?” Dufresne said.

Silochanie Miller ’26 is a Sun Contributor and can be reached at [email protected].