Inspirational participants highlight global conference The World in Our Grasp at CCA

By Diane Y. Welch

Following rousing applause, the Proscenium Theater auditorium at Canyon Crest Academy High School fell into silence as about 400 county area youths – attendees at TEDxYouth@San Diego – held onto every word that Richard Dreyfuss spoke. His address on the importance of civic education in public schools had clearly struck a chord.

An Academy Award-winning actor, Dreyfuss is the founder of the Dreyfuss Initiative.

“You can’t build a house and start with the roof, you have to build starting with a foundation. Civics teaches foundation and if you don’t teach it, we are anchorless and we wake up in the morning and don’t know the difference between right and wrong,” Dreyfuss said in an interview after his speech.

Through his website, and through five years of public speaking, Dreyfuss is leading the charge to bring civics back into the classroom. His speech, in which he gave a brief history of government and the importance of creating educated voters, echoed the theme of the day’s event, “The World in Our Grasp.”

Along with Dreyfuss, several presenters and performers convened at CCA on Saturday, Nov. 20 – Universal Children’s Day –for a multi-media presentation that aimed to motivate youth to make a difference in the world. It was a day filled with heartfelt messages, music, art, dance, and technology.

TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a worldwide conference that brings together achievers in a various fields who share ideas worth spreading. TEDxYouth@San Diego mirrors that vision with a mission to inspire and be a catalyst for change.

This event – the first ever organized in San Diego County and one of 43 such events planned worldwide – was streamed live online. The program was youth-driven and organized by volunteer students paired with volunteer adult mentors. It brought together some of the “most inspiring, creative and entertaining public speakers in the country.”

Brian Doyle, a recent CCA graduate now attending George Washington University, led a team of 20 students who made the program possible. He said it took a year to organize the event which included seeking funding. Major sponsors were Sharp Health Care, Qualcomm, The Leichtag Family Foundation, and Mission Federal Credit Union, along with Jimbo’s...Naturally!, The Hilton Garden Inn, Cox Communications, and others.

Doyle also helped secure the event presenters who were introduced by CCA graduate Maia Ferdman and CCA junior Hunter Barrera.

Included in the line-up was Patrick Ivison, 17, a Scripps Ranch High School student, who spoke of his passion for surfing and urged others to “dream big” and to focus on their abilities.

At the age of 3, Patrick was the victim of an accident that caused him physical disabilities and an inability to walk. Now he is the first disabled member of the Lost Surf Team, appearing on several television shows, including MTV and the Today Show.

“Sometimes kids get caught up in material things, but there are things more important in life. Those [material] things can easily go away, but the human spirit and your attitude is something that will be with you, forever,” he said.

Visiting from Redmond, Wash., pianist Adrianna Svitak, 15, performed Schumann’s “Traumes Wirren,” after her sister, Adora Svitak, 14, gave an entertaining speech about the power of words. When viewed through a different lens words that may limit us may be used instead to become a catalyst to success, Adora said.

“‘Naive’ and ‘impulsive’ can actually be used as strengths and may be used to accomplish your goals,” said Adora who, as a naive 7-year-old published her first book, “Flying Fingers,” then co-authored a published collection of poetry, “Dancing Fingers,” with Adrianna.

Formerly homeless, Liz Murray retold of her transformation from a life of despair, born to drug-addicted parents, to fulfilling her inner dream that answered her question, “What if I went to school and changed my life?” Murray, through determination and grit, graduated from high school, then graduated from Harvard University. She spoke of a timeless potential that each of us has and urged the audience to “fall in love with possibility.”

A breath of fresh air came when Sara Vance, yoga instructor, guided the audience through a collective deep breathing exercise. Then Peter Gilson, reptile zookeeper for the San Diego Zoo, talked about biomimicry and how scientists look to nature to find solutions to current health problems and to advance technology.

Tracy Lee Stum, an artist who specializes in 3D chalk street paintings, showed examples of her art and encouraged the audience to follow their passion. During the intermission, Stum engaged some of those present in an interactive chalk painting.

Entrepreneur Jason O’Neill, 15, founder of Pencil Bugs when he was age 9, asked the audience to simply “Try Your Ideas,” and Alec Loorz, founder of Kids vs Global Warming, spoke with passion about saving the planet for future generations.

The line-up of presenters and demonstrators also included CCA graduates Yurie Iwako, founder of Save the Sudan Club; and poet Elliot Wobler; Shamil Hargovan, a global product manager for Hewlett-Packard; Jason Russell, founder of Invisible Children, Inc.; David Schenone, innovation director for Global Footwear for Nike, Inc.; and Josh and Nina Church, La Jolla Country Day students who co-founded NIKA Water; the cast of “The Buried Life” and more.

Drumming, dance, robotics, digital technology and live music rounded out the day’s events and for all those who attended, the message was clear: “Your ideas are worth sharing, you are world changers.”

To see a video of the event log onto