TEDxYouth@RVA 2016

Collegiate’s Oates Theater was full of a palpable energy on Saturday, November 19th. The venue hosted TEDxYouth@RVA, an event curated by students from Collegiate’s Upper School and other Richmond-area high schools. The program was a platform for various perspectives and ideas, expressed through meaningful stories from people in our own community.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design and is “a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less).” TED is focused on inclusivity, as their website states, “TED is a global community, welcoming people from every discipline and culture who seek a deeper understanding of the world. We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and, ultimately, the world.” TEDx events are independently managed and give a community the chance to share thoughts in a smaller setting. TEDxYouth@RVA is a part of TEDxRVA, which has held its own conferences for the past four years.

The curatorial team began working on the event in May. Collegiate students are involved in TEDxYouth@RVA through a Senior Seminar class led by Rhiannon Boyd and Allen Chamberlain. The rest of the team consists of students from other high schools in Richmond. Each year, TEDxYouth events have a specific theme, and this year’s was “What Now?” When mentoring our speakers, we urged them to interpret this idea in their own way and apply it to their story.

During the summer, we brainstormed what voices we wanted and what issues our speakers would address. Through many rounds of voting, we decided on our final list of speakers; our speakers came from various backgrounds, ages, and experiences. After deciding on the list, the rest of the planning unfolded, all of which was done by students. We found speakers and obtained sponsors, such as Dominion, Capital One, Chipotle, and more. From there, we could execute the event successfully.

Photos of the speakers with this year's image for the event.

Photos of the speakers with this year’s image for the event. Image credit: Collegiate School. 

TEDxYouth@RVA sold out the night before the event, with 500 people slated to attend and take part in the night. The program consisted of talks from 5:00-6:15, a break for cupcakes and coffee, another set of talks from 6:45-8:15, and then dinner and an interactive session from 8:15-9:15. The interactive session provided hands-on activities for the audience. For example, viewers were given the opportunity to hear Black Liquid, hip-hop MC and teacher, freestyle rap about anything thrown at him. Another station was with Makerchests, which taught participants how to bind books. These activities gave the viewers a chance to connect even further with people they saw onstage or discover another remarkable organization in Richmond.

An audience watches Black Liquid freestyle rap. Photo credit: Don Mears.

An audience watches Black Liquid freestyle rap in the Octagon. Photo credit: Don Mears.

Part of my experience was working with Rob Snyder, one of the event’s speakers. Snyder works as a handler at Pixie’s Pen Pals, a program designed to provide prison inmates with life skills through the training of rescue dogs. The organization’s website states, “FETCH a Cure’s Pixie’s Pen Pals program not only lowers the rate of euthanasia in Virginia’s city dog shelters, but also provides life skills to inmates.” Since one of my own dogs came from the program, I knew that I wanted a story from this program on the TEDxYouth@RVA stage. In his TEDx talk, Snyder described the priceless value of his experience with the program with his dog on stage with him. The video of Snyder’s talk will soon be on the TEDxYouth@RVA website, along with the other speakers’ talks.

Rob Snyder giving his talk. Photo Credit: Don Mears.

Rob Snyder giving his talk. Photo credit: Don Mears.

Boyd remarked about one of the distinctive qualities of curating TEDxYouth@RVA. She said, “Everything we do turns into something real.” This aspect is not found in many other high school courses; usually, our work generates grades, but it isn’t as common to see schoolwork turn into an experience. All of the hours we spent on the event played out in front of our own eyes.

Collegiate seniors that curated this event reflected on the whole process. Elizabeth Harrison mentioned her amazement in our speakers. “I saw authentic humans making themselves vulnerable in front of us and ultimately, in front of an audience of over 500. In just a few short months, we were able to piece together an incredible event that we can all be wholeheartedly proud of.” Kate Kinder admired how the event was so inclusive, as she stated, “Through TEDxYouth@RVA, our team was able to encompass the individuality and vibrancy of Richmond. Often times, it is easy to become excessively absorbed into your own personal community that you neglect to explore what is outside. TEDxYouth@RVA reminded audience members and myself the Richmond community has a myriad of [perspectives] to offer that deserve to be explored.” Adam Kimbrough sees the everlasting value in this event, as he stated, “Whether they have difficult experiences to share from their life’s journey or they’re simply just bringing joy to others, TEDxYouth@RVA speakers never fail to please, and more importantly, influence the audience. Gathering for a community event, especially one directed towards the youth, is something that helps to build confidence and inspire the younger individuals in Richmond.” Natalie Glasgow perfectly summed up the result of the event. She said TEDxYouth@RVA “forced people to think outside of themselves.”

Olivia Brown (‘17) was an audience member and stated, “I thought this year’s TEDxYouth@RVA event was an incredibly enjoyable and eye-opening experience, as it is every year. It’s nice to take a break from our lives and listen to somebody else’s story or world view for a change.”

This event was an opportunity that not many 17-18 year olds have; it isn’t so often that teachers give the authority almost completely to the students. The unquestioning faith of our mentors was foreign, yet comforting. They believed in our abilities to pull it together, even when we were uncertain. This trust flowed into our belief in our speakers, our messages, and our event as a whole. I would highly recommend participating or attending this all-embracing event to extend your thoughts even further into the place you call home.

The team on stage at the end of the night. Photo Credit: Don Mears.

The team on stage at the end of the night. Photo credit: Don Mears.

About the author

Tana Mardian is a senior at Collegiate and has a fear of cotton balls.