Members of the TEDx committee paint cardboard letters advertising the conference. Pictured (L-R): junior Asata Manigualt, freshman David Fu, sophomore Thomas Stamoulis and sophomore Oliver Loree. Photo: Mr. Kaufman

On Sunday, March 21, Pace will host its first ever TEDx conference in the Fine Arts Center. According to the TED website, “TEDx is a grassroots initiative, created in the spirit of TED’s overall mission to research and discover ideas worth spreading.” While the TEDx events are not orchestrated by TED, organizers must agree to a certain format that mimics that of a TED Talk. “These events are organized by passionate individuals who seek to uncover new ideas and to share the latest research in their local areas that spark conversations in their communities,” per the website. 

English teacher Robert Kaufman and senior Michael Fu are hosting this year’s TEDx conference. “I decided to hold a TEDx conference because I was inspired by one of my friends,” said Fu. “After I saw him create a TEDx conference at his school, and he shared with me how impactful it was, I knew I wanted to bring TEDx to Pace.”

Mr. Kaufman gives Fu full credit for the idea. “I remember how exciting it was when Michael first brought the idea to me,” said Mr. Kaufman. “I thought, for all the myriad ways where Pace excels academically and athletically, one area in which we can continue to grow is in our extracurriculars.” Both Fu and Mr. Kaufman have high hopes for their first event.

“Our main goals are for people, students, middle school students, high school students, teachers and parents to recognize how multitudinous all of us are, and to realize that learning is not just something you do in a classroom, on an assessment for a grade, but rather, it’s something we all ought to be doing all the time,” said Mr. Kaufman. Fu hopes that the people attending the conference will think about how they, too, challenge the status quo. “My main goal for the event is to spark meaningful conversations within our Pace community,” he said.

The conference will begin with a speech by junior Kargil Behl entitled “Split Worlds: the Dynamics of Multiculturalism”. “I’m going to talk about my experience living in two polar countries: India and the USA,” said Behl. Behl’s speech includes a vivid description of his life in India as an American who feels distanced from his Indian heritage.

Speaking next are juniors Amalia Haviv and Megan Hardesty. Their speech is titled “Woman Up: How We Challenge Sexist Stereotypes.” Along with their speech, in which they cover everything from the commonly used phrase “try-hard” to stereotypes found in both athletics and the workplace, they will show a documentary-style video. The video includes interviews with girls in the Pace community as well as well known female teachers such as AP European History teacher Helen Smith and AP US History teacher Dr. Christine Carter. 

The third student presentation will be by junior Maddie Hale. “My TED talk discusses the significance of learning instead of focusing solely on the letter grade and not letting ourselves get overrun by the anxiety and stress caused by the letter grades,” said Hale. “Acing assessments and classes doesn’t necessarily mean you are learning, and if we make the point of school learning instead of being a ‘perfect’ student, the mental state of the school would greatly improve.”

The final student speaker is senior Jack Brown. Brown’s speech is titled “Self- Incarceration: The Intersection of Identity and Social Acceptance.” “My talk explores the idea of identity and how one’s identity can in itself be a deviation from the status quo, or what is normal,” said Brown. “I decided to speak on this subject after many challenging experiences faced as a gay man.”

Brown is excited to hear other peoples’ ideas and share his own. “I’m hoping that in sharing some of my stories, people will begin to think more critically about their own lives,” said Brown. “I hope that people feel enlightened so we can strengthen our community by furthering our understanding of each other and questioning what we have already accepted.”

One of the three adult speakers at the conference will be Director of Student Life and Head Varsity Girls Basketball Coach Troy Baker. Dr. Baker wants people to celebrate the idea of being well rounded. “I think all too often people find themselves boxed into a role of how people see them, maybe based on their past, or on certain characteristics based on things they’re good at or struggle with,” said Dr. Baker.

Dr. Baker challenges the status quo every day by showing up in unexpected places. “People ask, how is an athletic director getting involved in certain aspects of school, or curriculum,” said Dr. Baker. “Or people are surprised when you say, I’m a coach, and I’ve got a doctorate from Vanderbilt.” On top of his definition of “well rounded,” Dr. Baker will touch on the topic of race. “And then there’s also just things in there about being a black man and independent schools, especially in the South, and kind of some of what that journey is like,” said Dr. Baker.

Another adult speaker is the founder of Hope for Youth, Kristina Smith-Newton. “Hope for Youth, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that empowers girls of color to confidently pursue 21st century careers and opportunities in computing and technology,” says the organization’s website. Mrs. Smith-Newton spent seven years working for a major consulting firm as a tech consultant until she decided to quit her job and serve different nonprofits until founding Hope for Youth in 2017.

As a Black woman who personally experienced doubt and isolation due to lack of representation, mentorship, and upward mobility opportunities, I am committed to changing the statistics for Black and Brown girls in STEAM pathways – and I’m committed to doing it now,” said Mrs. Smith-Newton on her website. Mrs. Smith-Newton will speak on the importance of women of all colors having equal opportunities in the STEM field, a field typically dominated by men. 

The final adult speaker is Colombian-American poet, speaker and actor Carlos Andrés Gómez. “He is the author of the full-length poetry collection “Fractures,” selected by Natasha Trethewey as the winner of the 2020 Felix Pollak Prize in Poetry,” says his website. “A two-time International Poetry Slam Champion (TIPS ’06, BNIPS ’10), he has done more than 1,000 college and university events at nearly 700 schools, facilitated countless workshops, and delivered numerous graduation speeches and commencement addresses.”

Mr. Kaufman even attended one of his college events. “I actually heard him recite poetry at a show in Dartmouth when I was there for grad school,” said Mr. Kaufman. “And there’s a lot of artists, I feel like, whether it’s singers or poets, who are very in their own world, and Carlos is not one of them.” Gómez is currently waiting to write his speech until he feels he can cover the information most relevant to Pace students in March. “It’s been so volatile politically, that he’s waiting,” said Mr. Kaufman. 

Many teachers are offering their students extra credit to attend the TEDx conference in March. Mr. Kaufman will also hand out Chick-fil-A to the students who come to support their peers. “I hope that everyone thinking of attending knows that there is a wide variety of speech topics and that they are bound to find someone enjoyable or meaningful somewhere within one of many of our speeches,” said Brown.

Mr. Kaufman wants to remind students and teachers to go into the TEDx conference with an open mind. “My bigger hope is that the other students realize that it’s true that no student should be defined by just their x-axis and y-axis on a scattergram, but more importantly their thoughts and ideas.”

 

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