As the November 14th date of TEDxYouth@RVA approached, there was definitely a buzz in the air around school. TED Talks are a popular source of information on the Collegiate campus, and both students and faculty were excited to get such an up close and personal insight into the process. The TEDx team, made up of Collegiate’s TEDxYouth@RVA senior seminar class, Glen Allen’s Caroline Sindelar, James River’s Anna Davis and Maja Gabrielson, and mentors/teachers Timothy Couillard, Rhiannon Boyd, Allen Chamberlain, and Andy Stefanovich, had been working tirelessly for weeks. Posters were everywhere, tickets were sold out, and the list of outstanding speakers coming to pitch their ideas for modeling the future was released.
George Grattan (‘16), one of the students on the team, described the process of creating this experience, saying, “My favorite part of the event was the dress rehearsal night. It was so amazing to see all of the hard work and ideas that the student planners had devoted to TEDxYouth@RVA come to life. All our ideas and dreams had become a reality, something clicked, and I remember thinking, ‘This is actually going to happen.’ Despite planning the event for several months, I never really was able to appreciate the massiveness of our undertaking until it was nearly complete.”
Curator of the program Andy Stefanovich opened the evening in Oates Theater by citing the hard work of the students from Collegiate, James River High School, and Glen Allen High School, saying that “This is probably one of our proudest moments.” Stefanovich also explained the process of TEDxYouth@RVA as a way for youth to be inspired by talks centered around spreading ideas to shape the future. The evening brought in speakers from all ages to talk about service-based projects, stories and encouraging words, music, issues of discrimination based on race or gender, and the corruption of body image in society. Grattan summed up the way this event gave both the speakers and the audience a chance to make change, saying, “Many of our peers have dreams of changing the world in some way; however, many of us lack a sense of direction to these dreams. TED is important to our youth because it is like a dream pitch, it allows us to propose our ideas to a larger audience.”
Throughout the evening, Middle Schoolers stood confidently in front of hundreds of people and explained how they had started a movement to build prosthetic arms for veterans and victims of muscular disorders. High Schoolers spoke passionately and bravely about issues that they hope will not be a part of their future. Adults cited their own experiences and the experiences they see in youth that give them hope for the legacy they leave to their children. The evening was the epitome of multigenerational collaboration, bringing together all kinds of stories and ages to create an image of the kind of future we want to see.
Upper School Senior Seminar teacher Rhiannon Boyd worked with co-teacher (and Saunders Family Library Head Librarian) Allen Chamberlain to oversee the process. Boyd explained the excitement and hard work that went into the event, but also the beauty in what TEDxYouth@RVA has shown her. “I believe very seriously in the theory of multiple intelligences,” she said. “People are not intelligent in only the traditional IQ-measured way.” The idea she is discussing comes from professor and Harvard graduate Howard Gardner’s explanation that humans’ strengths are multi-faceted and diverse, not centered around one particular skill. Mrs. Boyd described the role this idea played in the TEDxYouth@RVA experience, saying, “what I found with Ms. Chamberlain in teaching this class is that we had to structure this so that people could articulate their strengths,” and that “everything that we set up was based on the strengths of the students.”
One of the many ways in which TEDxYouth@RVA delivered inspiration came in the form of May Donahue (‘16), who used her time on the red dot to explore media and how it affects our body image and perception of ourselves. May used her own experience with an eating disorder to call into question the ways in which we allow the media to destroy confidence with tailored images of “perfection.” When asked why she feels that TED talks should be brought to the youth, May responded, “I think we’re the ones that can affect change because we’re the ones that have the new ideas, we’re the ones that have our whole lives ahead of us to implement the stuff we were talking about.” This idea of implementing change was characteristic of the evening as speakers explored their individual proposals for creating a brighter future.
Some of these speakers sought simple changes, like Garth Callaghan, founder of Napkin Notes and promoter of the idea that “being happy can be a choice.” Others called attention to issues that demand a less tangible change, like Jendayi Johnson, who gave a powerful spoken word in correlation with the Black Lives Matter movement. Any of these messages would act as powerful evidence of this idea of multiple intelligences and how we can capitalize on them to make our future what we want it to be. With students as young as Middle Schoolers already gathering the courage and drive to stand in front of hundreds and call attention to what our generation needs to fix, these multiple intelligences are being put to use in a way that will lead nowhere but change.
All photos by Helen Roddey.