Vogue invites two San Diego student activists to meet Billie Eilish

Sydney Kroonen (left) and Ryan Berberet took part in a protest Jan. 21 in San Diego urging climate action by President Biden.
Sydney Kroonen (left) and Ryan Berberet took part in a protest Jan. 21 in San Diego urging climate action by President Biden.
(Gina Woods)

The pop star discussed environmental issues and climate control with young environmentalists for the fashion magazine’s online January cover story


When popular singer/songwriter Billie Eilish was invited to do a cover story for Vogue magazine, she wanted to make more than a fashion statement.

She was intent on making an environmental statement as well.

As a result, Vogue’s January digital cover story and video were not just about the iconic 21-year-old pop star known for her baggy clothing and lime-green hair highlights. It focused on the back stories and missions of a handful of youthful environmental activists across the country.

FILE - Billie Eilish arrives at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Billie Eilish arrives at the Oscars in 2020. The Grammy-winning star is on the cover of Vogue’s January 2023 digital edition.
(Associated Press photo/John Locher)

Two Francis Parker School juniors were the youngest invitees.

Ryan Berberet,16, and Sydney Kroonen, 17, co-founded an environmental club at the school called the Green Team, inspired by the nationwide Action for the Climate Emergency (ACE) organization.

“I was shocked,” said Berberet, who lives in Kensington, about getting the invitation last October to be interviewed for Vogue. “At first, I thought it was some sort of scam.”

It wasn’t.

On Nov. 17, the two traveled to Los Angeles with their mothers, where Oscar-nominated Mike Mills was directing a video that would be published in January’s online Vogue magazine.

They weren’t initially told that the popular singer would be there.

Tonyisha Harris, speaking for the climate emergency action group, explained that Vogue contacted her organization saying they wanted to do a story involving young activists from across the country and requested representation from Southern California.

“Ryan and Sydney are shining stars,” says Harris, who lives in Chicago.

The students were asked to bring a couple of outfits to the L.A. studio. But when they arrived, they were invited to pick additional items from racks of clothing.

The environmental theme was evident in the preparations. The apparel was made of sustainable materials; the meals and snacks were vegan, and those involved in the shoot were asked to bring refillable water bottles.

On the first day, they met with some other visiting activists. The second day was the shoot and meeting with Eilish. When they were tested for COVID early that morning, sadly, Sydney tested positive and had to leave before the filming began.

“It was a big heartbreak to have my test come back positive,” says Sydney, who lives in Coronado. “I was completely asymptomatic. I felt just perfect.”

She is thankful, though, that she got the chance to connect with others involved in the world of climate activism and considers them role models she can consult with on future projects.

In fact, one participant, Nalleli Cobo, who helped shut down a toxic oil-drilling site near her home in South Los Angeles, was invited by Sydney and Ryan to address Francis Parker students today for its 2023 “Day of Understanding” event.

But, back to Billie Eilish. What was the winner of seven Grammys like in real life?

“Bubbly and nice and genuine. She’s just a normal person,” says Ryan, who started her activism at age 14. “She just wanted to talk to us, ask us questions ... It was not about her at all.”

Like Ryan and Sydney, Eilish was accompanied by her mom, Maggie Baird, and spoke about their close bond.

When Vogue had approached Eilish about the online cover story, she reportedly requested inclusion of a videotaped session with the eight young activists, a mini-environmental summit.

Ryan’s first glimpse of the superstar was in the studio when Eilish walked by in pajamas.

“I love your outfit,” one of the activists called out.

Billie Eilish invited Ryan Berberet (left) and Sydney Kroonen to attend her concert at the L.A. Kia Forum in December.
(Courtesy photo of Ryan Berberet and Sydney Kroonen

The shoot took place in a single, 12-hour day for which they arrived at 6:30 a.m. It was edited to about a 10-minute video that gave each of the participants a chance to talk.

Their discussions were wide ranging, featuring the backgrounds and passions of each. Ryan spoke about student activism, training and organizing fellow students to take leadership roles.

“We could have talked for days,” Ryan says. “I just wanted to hear what everyone else had to say.”

Eilish, in turn, told them how hopeful it made her to be around people who cared so deeply about the environment.

Vogue’s post on Instagram explains the pop star’s focus on saving the planet noting, in part:

“In 2022 she greened her Happier Than Ever world tour in partnership with the nonprofit Reverb; a year prior, she famously secured a guarantee from Oscar de la Renta’s creative directors ... to stop selling fur when she wore their design to her first Met Gala.”

The post emphasized that Eilish refuses to travel by private jet and, last June, she staged a six-day climate summit called Overheated, where she invited other musicians, sustainable fashion designers and activists to take center stage.

“She uses her platform to give voices to people who do work in environmentalism,” Sydney says.

“The (Vogue) experience left Ryan and Sydney hungrier than before to drive change, and they have a full list of current projects, and those in the works,” says Lori Biggs, spokeswoman for Francis Parker School.

They’re involved in a San Diego campaign called Youth v. Oil dedicated to phasing out oil drilling. They regularly attend climate rallies, such as the one on Jan. 21 in downtown San Diego asking President Biden to declare a climate emergency.

They’ve spoken with representatives of Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins. They’re also working with SanDiego350, a climate crisis education and outreach movement.

Oh, and they attended Eilish’s concert in December at the L.A. Kia Forum as guests of the superstar ... an unexpected perk.