Speakers inspire students at TEDxYouth@San Diego event in Carmel Valley

By Diane Welch

“UNLIMITED” was the message and the theme shared with more than 400 students from schools around the county who convened at Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) Nov. 24 for this year’s TEDxYouth@San Diego, an independently organized TED event.

The theme for this inspirational day came from Grant Korgan, who spoke about his journey from being an athlete with a spinal injury — who was told he would never walk again — to a motivational force.

Through positivity and choosing not to limit his thoughts, Korgan was able to walk onto the stage of CCA’s proscenium theater. “Choosing not to limit his thoughts” means, according to Korgan, that he did not accept what he was being told to him by his doctors. He expanded his thoughts, and chose to think of himself as being able to walk.

This idea, which brought a standing ovation, was echoed by the more than 25 presenters who spoke with passion about realizing their own unlimited potential.

Three presenters had close ties to CCA. Mark Raines, teacher of video film production at CCA, shared his journey of recovery from a neurological condition that left him with a marked speech impediment. The condition brought his eight-year career as a news anchor to a halt but, in turn, it helped him discover his true identity, he said.

Brian Doyle, a former CCA student and founding member of the TEDxYouth@SanDiego organizing team, used his 12 minutes to say “thank you,” and Eric Chen, a CCA senior, spoke about the importance of questions.

“There is so much out there, as long as we continue being curious, and keep asking questions and looking for answers, we can change the world,” he said later. Chen invented a computer-aided approach to speed up the drug discovery process for a new flu medicine for which he became the 2013 Google Science Fair Grand Prize winner.

The line-up of speakers included Shane Koyczan, talk rock performer; operations scientist Leslie Lipkaman; Brittany Wenger, a 2012 Google Science Fair Grand Prize winner for her project “Global Neural Network Cloud Service for Breast Cancer”; and 16-year-old Jack Andraka, who created an inexpensive paper sensor that detects pancreatic and ovarian cancer. Many more spoke with passion about science, drug recovery, and entrepreneurship.

Between each speaking session students rotated through several interactive exhibits —called salons — in technology, health and personal reflection. A playful ball pit encouraged students to meet someone they had never met before and start a conversation through ice-breaker prompts written on beach balls.

Emily Laliotis, a CCA senior who was one of a selected 44 students who collaborated in the planning and execution of the event, aided by teachers, parents and business professionals, said that she gained life and business experience in helping in the organization and plans to create a TEDx event at college.

“The event really empowers the youth of San Diego,” said Madison Rhodes, who also worked behind the scenes as a performer curator to secure event speakers. “We have shared a plethora of ideas today.”

Music, chorals, drumming, dance, meditation, and martial arts rounded out the day’s events and for all those who attended, the message – as told by Korgan – was clear: “You are unlimited!”

TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design, has a global reach that brings together achievers in various fields who share ideas worth spreading. To see a video of the day’s event, visit