An unforgettable day of inspiration

By Maia Ferdman and Brian Doyle

On Nov. 20, hundreds of high school students from all over San Diego County gathered together at Canyon Crest Academy with the simple intent to be inspired. Many had never heard of TED, let alone TEDxYouth@SanDiego.

As the day unfolded, however, the students met speakers who told stories of hardship, success, and altruism. They enjoyed live performances by dancers, robots, and singers. They interacted with yoga, 3D chalk painting, technology, animal demonstrations, and each other. They began to realize that this “conference” was out of the ordinary, and nothing short of life changing.

At first merely a vision of a few Canyon Crest Academy teachers and students, TEDxYouth@SanDiego embodied the idea that kids can accomplish big things. With the theme of “The World in Our Grasp,” the conference illustrated the diversity of not only the world, but also the ways in which to change it.

The TEDx team ensured that from the moment the attendees received their invitations, they were part of the experience. Ever since the planning began in January, the arrival of the attendees was a highly anticipated event. Arriving on buses, attendees were greeted by “TED Friends” with red balloons. They followed the lively Canyon Crest Samba Corvo into the Proscenium Theater, and the day began.

Each speaker brought a unique story and a provocative message to the stage. They included poet and CCA graduate Elliott Wobler, who began TEDx with a spoken word poem that told students to “rise up from age old slumber.”

Adora Svitak, who published her own book at age 7 and spoke at TEDGlobal at age 12, pointed out that the words “naïve,” “impulsive,” and “inexperienced,” which adults so often use to describe children, are actually praise. These qualities make kids daring. They make them unafraid.

Teenage entrepreneurs and visionaries such as Alec Loorz, Jason O’Neill, and Josh and Nina Church exemplified this. These teens, all under the age of 18, decided to put their ideas about the world and change into practice. Loorz vigorously challenged the idea that we, as a new generation, have to accept the status quo. O’Neill advised that there isn’t a need to follow any predetermined path from high school to college to a typical job. The Church siblings spoke about social entrepreneurships, and how life is about the little things we do every day that can add up to make a change.

Seventeen year-old Patrick Ivison replayed his vivid life story with his service dog Kona by his side. He described his ability to surf and more recently, walk, despite a spinal cord injury and an entire life in a wheelchair. Ivison noted in his presentation that he “focuses on [his] ability, not [his] disability.” His story was yet another example of living life to its fullest, and of achieving what seems impossible.

Co-founder of Invisible Children Jason Russell spoke about how “most of us are born to be anonymous extraordinaires.” He emphasized the importance of those behind the scenes that are “making the right choices.” Russell conveyed that everyone has the capability of changing the world without being famous. In fact, anonymous extraordinaires are those who create the most change of all.

As the day progressed, the room seemed to be bursting with energy. It reached a definite peak when ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro took the stage. The empowered audience clapped and danced with Shimabukuro as he played his unbelievable music and spoke about the power of music as the universal language. His passion flooded the stage and his happiness radiated throughout his performance.

What the audience may not have noticed was how the event inspired the speakers themselves. Backstage and in the speaker lounge, presenters of all ages and fields conversed, all profoundly happy to be present and make their statements.

This atmosphere did not merely happen by chance, either. It was a product of countless preliminary meetings, email correspondences, visions, and ideas that turned into realities. The final product was a level of professionalism and organization worthy of any adult conference.

Passion was the driving force, the fuel behind these months of hard work. Every single member of the TEDx team, whether a student, a teacher, a parent, or a volunteer, was passionate about what they were doing. This passion then was transferred unto the day’s events, the attendees, and the speakers themselves.

High school students contributed an enormous portion of the efforts that made this day a reality. The tech team, the MC’s, the artists who decorated the lobby, the ushers and the visionaries, were primarily in high school, and their capabilities surpassed those of many adults.

TEDxYouth@SanDiego began as a vision of teacher Christopher Black, Jeannie Chufo and a few students. Black quoted Christopher Reeve the night before the event: “so many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.”

However, the inevitable would not have happened without the dedication and hours of commitment on the parts of fellow teachers Robin Duncan, Kellie Dunkirk, Laura Krogh and Tim Stiven. Nor would it have happened without the generous support of sponsors such as Sharp Health Care, Qualcomm, Leichtag Foundation and Jimbo’s Naturally.

After the months of planning and excitement, the experience of TEDxYouth@SanDiego definitely achieved its purpose. The day was filled with listening, but the final message that the attendees received was to “do.”

To act on inspiration or change the world does not have to be a monumental feat. Changing the world does not have to involve creating a business or doing something enormous. It could be making people happy, living life to the fullest, or even just following a dream.

During the breaks, students wrote their goals on an “In My Life Wall,” and many shared them with their peers at the end of the day. These goals ranged from raising money to help cure diabetes, to opening a school for orphan children in Africa, to being the next president, or to just doing something cool enough to give a TED talk. The message of TEDxYouth@SanDiego resonated with these high school students, and hopefully will continue to inspire and reach countless kids online.

This event is meant to be a catalyst for everyone who watches it. To use it to act on something, change something, improve something, create something, stop something — to do anything. The motivating and empowering message of TEDxYouth@SanDiego will not merely stay in the memories of those who experienced it, but will be the starting point for many to live life fully and change the world as they go.