Our story is one of interconnectedness. Over 30 faculty and staff from all areas of our JK-12 school volunteered to make our first TEDxYouth event possible. To see all of the volunteers assembled at 9:00am, four hours before the start of our event, was stunning. Our school mascot is the husky, and we love nothing more than a good dog sledding metaphor to explain the spirit of our school. On December 1 and the many months and weeks leading up to it, this amazing group of people truly “pulled the sled” together. From laser-cutting the acrylic letters for our TEDxYouth@FHS set piece to coaching the student presenters to spending hours in post-production with the footage from the day, our teachers and staff contributed with such a generosity of spirit–enough to make this first foray into TEDx a success.
Of course, the event could not have happened without a brave group of students to take the stage for our inaugural conference. When we began promoting the idea last spring to our students that they could give their own TEDx talks, we worried that no students would be interested or willing enough to give it a shot. But we were committed to filling our Youth Day event only with youth speakers, so we were elated, in November, to receive seven virtual auditions from two middle and five upper school students. The ideas of those seven students, coupled with the three TED/TEDx videos we chose to screen at our event, built a powerful “Dream Big…Then Do It” program.
The students really are the heart of our story. They worked on their own to craft their ideas and then trusted their mentors to help them shape their dreams into powerful talks. The honesty, compassion, creativity, and bravery these students spoke about, left our 90-member audience inspired. Zane, a sophomore, began the day with his “Online or Inlife” challenge to balance our virtual lives with our real lives. His relationship with technology is a refreshing foil to the tech-obsessed stereotype of his generation. Meghan, a seventh grader, delivered an impassioned call to be more mindful in our use of natural resources in her talk, “Our Earth, Our Home.” Her gentle voice boomed through our theater with the beautiful sound of optimism. After Neil Paricha’s “Three A’s of Awesome” TED video, sophomore Sarah Al-Qatou shared the story of the disappointment she faced when her dance career was interrupted by a string of broken bones and other injuries. While she healed, she learned that she was more than just a dancer, that she could have new hopes and dreams. We, in the audience, were reminded of our own dreams as we listened to her story of “Learning a New Dance.” Senior Chris Hintz brought the first half of our conference to a close with his moving talk dedicated to his special-needs younger brother, Sean. Chris told us that he doesn’t want to be who his parents want him to be or who his friends want him to be; he wants to be who Sean wants him to be–someone his brother can respect and admire. Chris’s talk entitled “Servant Leadership” left few dry eyes in the audience.
During the 30-minute intermission, our guests were treated to a beautiful 200 cookie display. These amazing TEDx cookies captured the magic of the day and provided just the sweet treat our attendees needed as they browsed our wall of dreams and mingled with one another and the student presenters.
We settled back into the program with Paul Nicklen’s video, “Tales of Ice-Bound Wonderlands,” which served as a nice follow-up to Meghan’s environmental talk. Ready for more student dreamers, our attendees then listened and watched with awe as senior Doug Stevens shared his story of mental and physical triumph over the challenges he faced in military training courses. Doug’s talk, “Bridging the Gap,” revealed his mature commitment to becoming what Mitchell McElroy calls a “sheep dog,” one who defends the rest of us from wolf attacks. Kayla Hewitt, an eighth grader, took the stage next with poise and purpose, beginning by reciting a spoken word poem and then explaining the evolution of her dream to become an author. Kayla, who once wanted to be a chemist, now has her sights set on following in J.K. Rowling’s path; there is no doubt this young woman will write novels to inspire generations to come. On the heals of Kayla’s talk about taking risks and making choices to make your dreams come true, we watched Tara Suri and Niha Jain’s TEDx video, “Learning to Fail.” Our amazing program came to a close with our final student speaker, sophomore Dani Wallace and her talk about agape love, the selfless love of one person for another. She titled her talk “Leaving a Legacy of Love,” which is what she hopes to accomplish as a student at Flint Hill. Dani’s naked honesty about our human need for love made the attendees want to befriend even those people who, as Dani put it, annoy us or reject us.
The audience hooted and hollered for our student speakers and our student host, senior Hooman Azad, who kept the program running smoothly. The participants celebrated on stage with photos together and with their families, cementing the TEDx community that formed over the course of many months, weeks, days, and hours. Students’ and faculty members’ minds are already churning about how to make our 2013 event a worthy follow-up to this impressive first-time celebration of dreams.