On Nov. 14 Pace hosted its second-ever TEDx event. After a successful first event last March, the return of TEDx was an exciting opportunity for many students. Prior TEDx Committee members, juniors Emma Beth Neville and Marit Uyham stepped into the large role of leading the event. “Emma Beth and I were so inspired by the success of last year’s event, as well as Michael Fu’s (‘21) initiative and leadership, that we were excited to work to further the TEDx legacy here at Pace,” said Uyham.
The first step in planning the event was picking a topic to guide all of the speeches and artwork. “Emma Beth and Marit brainstormed several potential topics, and the three of us together decided “The Force of Words” would be most engaging for speakers to write about and attendees to discover,” said TEDx Faculty Sponsor and Upper School English teacher Robert Kaufman. “It is also directly connected with this year’s ICGL theme, Education.”
While last year’s TEDx event received lots of good feedback, there were many areas to be improved. Mr. Kaufman sought to make the event appeal to a wider audience. “This year, I made a conscientious effort to have all three school divisions, each Upper School grade, and to the best of my understanding, every affinity and alliance group represented by this year’s presenters and speakers,” said Mr. Kaufman. He also worked to increase the number of middle schoolers in attendance through the addition of middle school TEDx representatives and extra credit from almost all of the Middle School teachers. “We also added multiple other artistic layers in the hope to elevate the attendee experience,” added Mr. Kaufman.
The first student speaker was senior Ryan Varma who gave a speech titled “Chasing a Yellow Dress: How a Girl I Never Met Taught Me Empathy”. “I wanted to present a story that would be unique yet relatable to everyone listening,” said Varma. Varma went on to speak about his encounter with an unhoused woman in Istanbul and how observing her selflessness taught him empathy. While his confidence on stage might appeal otherwise, Varma’s relatable and elegant speech was very difficult to write. “I had no idea how to get all my ideas down into a coherent speech, and only after multiple drafts and many painful hours of writing and rewriting, was I able to get my speech down to what it was,” said Varma. Varma hopes the audience will look to help others a little bit more after hearing his speech. “The thing that I hope people take away from my speech is really that we can all make a difference wherever we are to those around us by just showing a little more compassion,” he said.
The next student speaker was junior Kate Romero who presented a speech titled “Art for Art’s Sake: How a Little Notebook Emboldened my Self-Expression”. “Ultimately, I wanted to speak about something that wasn’t necessarily expected of me and that was very personal to me, that I really had to discover on my own, and something that I had never really heard anyone talk about,” said Romero. Romero went on to speak about the beauty of imperfection in both art and writing. After listening to her speech, Romero wants the audience to take away two things. “One, just like anything else, I hope to show that words don’t always have to be for other people, sometimes they can be just for you and still make a difference,” said Romero. “Two, I want them to see how much writing and art have in common and how much they have to be learned from each other, how to apply lessons from different parts of your life.”
Next up were seniors Allie Campbell and Emma Killian who gave a speech titled “Have You Heard? Shattering the Silence of Stigmas”. The duo was eager to speak in this year’s event as they both had a unique relationship with the topic “The Force of Words”. “I have struggled with hearing loss for the majority of my life, so when I heard the theme, I thought it would be a unique way to share my story,” said Campbell. As Allie’s best friend, Killian has also played a large role in Allie’s journey with words. “Allie and I had been learning sign language together, so the topic surrounding communication was very applicable to our friendship,” said Killian. Killian hopes that after listening to their speech, the audience realized that communication is not something to be taken for granted. “I hope to have encouraged others to conquer their insecurities and inspired self-reflection in the viewers,” added Campbell.
Senior Pranavh Pradeep was the final student speaker with his speech titled “Lost in Translation: The Poetry of Names”. Pradeep began his speech by talking about how his grandfather was born without a name because it was believed that he would not survive. Later his grandfather was given a name by his teacher. Pradeep went on to explain the structure of names in Tamil culture. He informed the audience that due to the rare addition of the letter “h” in his name, he is in fact the only Pranavh Pradeep in the world.
Rabbi Micah Lapidus and Jazz Vocalist Melvin Kendall Myles were the first non-student speakers to present: “When Silence is Untenable: A Musical Collaboration Across Faiths.” Rabbi Lapidus is the Director of Jewish and Hebrew Studies at the Jewish day school Davis Academy, and he is a songwriter and composer with four published albums: “Be a Blessing” (2013), “A Palace in Time” (2015), “Eit HaZamir” (2016) and “Menschology” (2017). Mr. Myles was born and raised in the birthplace of the blues, Clarksdale MS. Myles is now a Jazz vocalist and regularly serves in the Worship and Arts Ministry of the Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church. During their presentations, they sang “There is Violence in the Silence” and “Swim Swim Swim.” They are both original songs that Rabbi Lapidus plans to record in the studio later.
Chief and Equity Inclusion Officer Joanne Beauvoir Brown presented a personal, heartfelt speech appropriately titled, “What’s in a Name”. She joined the Pace community with her two sons Tiger Brown (‘13) and Jean-Luc Brown (‘17) and now serves as the Chief and Equity Inclusion Officer for the entire school. Mrs. Brown’s parents were from Haiti, so they gave her a French name. When she was young, she would hate her name because it was different and always mispronounced. However, at 8 years old, Mrs. Brown was told that her name means beautiful, and she fully embraced her name. She started believing that she is beautiful and claims that her name gives her confidence.
Danny Wuerffel presented a speech called “Words from Inside.” Mr. Wuerffel is the 1996 Heisman Trophy winner and went on to play in the NFL until 2004. Currently, he serves as the Executive Director of Desire Street Ministries. Mr. Wuerffel’s speech was about how whenever he is down, he hears a voice in the back of his head. This voice is his mother’s voice, and the power of those words gives him the confidence to fail.
Armando Vizcaino-Santiago was the only Lower School teacher and presented a speech called “Siempre pa’ Lante, Nunca pa; Tras: The Intersection of Literary and Social-Emotional Development.” Armando started his teaching career as a third grade teacher at St. James the Apostle Catholic School in San Antonio, Texas, and he came to Pace Academy in 2019. Mr. Vizcaino-Santiago says that his grandparents have a huge influence on him, and he still uses his grandparents’ motto: “always forward, never back.”
Kristi Odom (‘98) presents her speech next: “A Relation of Correlations: Using Mathematics to Connect with Photography.” Ms. Odom is a Pace alumna and was part of the class of ‘98. She is currently an internationally acclaimed photographer and has photos appearing in National Geographic, Nikon, Forbes, Rollingstone, Microsoft and Outside Magazine. Since she was in high school, Ms. Odom has loved math and tries to incorporate her passion into her photography. She loves observing shapes in her photos, especially the Fibonacci curve. In the search for unique photos, Ms. Odom is always on the move and takes photos from odd angles.
Mr. Kaufman and Uyham both hope that everyone in attendance learned something new and connected to at least one speech. “Although the speeches may have impacted listeners differently, we really hope that everyone is inspired by the wonderful speakers to think about what force words have in our day-to-day lives,” said Uyham. Mr. Kaufman would also like to encourage students to begin crafting their own stories. “I hope students who attended or watched the TEDx speeches later realize, that they too are large and contain multitudes,” he said. Next year’s TEDx event will be led by current junior Davis Rice.