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The Future Is Young

Believing in absurdity & brilliance: Community changing ideas spread from The Woodlands' TEDxYouth

Believing in absurdity & brilliance: Community changing ideas spread from The Woodlands' TEDxYouth

News_TEDxYouth_Javier Fernandez-Han
Javier Fernandez-Han Photo via HelloTechnician.com
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Victor Cyrus
Victor Cyrus Photo by Peter Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Matt Williams
Matt Williams Photo by Peter Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Fabian with older brother Javier
Fabian with his older brother, Javier Photo by Peter Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Peter Han
Peter Han Photo by Fabian Fernandez-Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Audience_crowd
Audience Photo by Peter Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Volunteers
Volunteers Photo by Peter Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Aishwarya Ravat on left and Asha Raghu on right
Aishwarya Ravat, left, and Asha Raghu Photo by Peter Han
News_TEDxYouth_Javier Fernandez-Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Victor Cyrus
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Matt Williams
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Fabian with older brother Javier
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Peter Han
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Audience_crowd
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Volunteers
News_Joel_TEDxYouth_Aishwarya Ravat on left and Asha Raghu on right

Are you brave enough to dream? Can you let go of your adult-imposed societal inhibitions in favor of envisioning larger-than-life possibilities without looking at what's impractical, unworkable and even naive? 

That was the tenor of the first TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands at Lone Star College-Montgomery Campus, where a solid attentive assemblage gathered for cross-generational learning. The setting was prime for the care-free vitality of youthful ideas and the maturity of grown-up thought processes to commingle in hopes of nurturing dialogue.

The TED movement — the acronym spells out Technology, Entertainment and Design — has gained exponential momentum since its founding in the mid 1980s. What began as a one-off symposium in Monterey, Calif. is now a global movement of ideas worth spreading that act as a catalyst for change. As the popularity of the concept broadened, TED national authorized local curators to mount independent events.

 Could you imagine a world where each person's voice is heard? Where hunger is illegal and nobody is judged by race or gender? Where kindness and compassion are the real currency? 

 

In essence, that's a TEDx conference. TED lends its signature 18-minute (or less) presentation style talks and trusts organizers to curate topics relevant to their region. TEDxYouth grew out of that practice to extend learning across a younger age group. That inspired the Fernandez-Han family, which previously orchestrated the first TEDxTheWoodlands event, to take on the project.

Where TEDxYouth differs is that it's also an educational forum that encourages students to refine public speaking skills. Curated by 18-year-old wunderkind Javier Fernandez-Han, speakers had to scheme a clear message and possess the willingness to be coached to deliver such message with passion and conviction. 

Dubbed, Imaginate: Imagine + Create, TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands challenged 17 youth and seven adult presenters to let go of reservations and envision a world where the unthinkable is feasible. That ethos was best identified by Peter Han's talk titled “Ludicrous, Ridiculous, Amateurish!”

The words' respective etymologies — playfulness, laughter and love — are actually ingredients necessary for innovation and progress.

Imagine a world where . . . 

Denise Lanier, who conceived what she coined as klepto-collaborative poetry, began by amassing the aspirations of those present.

Could you imagine a world where each person's voice is heard? Where hunger is illegal and nobody is judged by race or gender? Where no one is disabled, just differently abled? Where friends are family and family are friends? Where no one wants to be a copy of someone else? Where people burst into song? Where kindness and compassion are the real currency? 

  "Talking at TEDx@TheWoodlands motivated me to keep on going, to talk to other people about my initiative and to gather support to make it a reality."

 

Erin Kotland, a junior at The Woodlands High School, was inspired by a mission trip to Uganda during which she helped build a woman's shelter and interacted with locals trying to make a difference, rebel fighters and orphans. Exposed to fresh water shortages and a multitude infrastructure problems, her solution included setting up The Dorcas Empowerment, a co-mentorship exchange that offers friendship, networking and advice.

"I was really nervous to share my ideas," Kotland says. "I was overwhelmed that the audience was interested in my story. Talking at TEDx@TheWoodlands motivated me to keep on going, to talk to other people about my initiative and to gather support to make it a reality."

It was theater skits that brought to life 17-year-olds Black Hubbard and Danielle Pink-Bailey's belief that “You Need to be Blind to See Clearly." Racial blindness is essential to move from comfortable acceptance of diversity to willful integration and innovation.

With passion and conviction, Woodlands High School sophomore Gibraan Rahman shared personal accounts of being a target of Islamophobia. Amid stories of being accused of terrorism and anti-American attitudes, he brought home the point that it's a minority of extremists who use the religion to forward their own political and selfish agendas.

 "I imagine a time when the word change isn't a campaign slogan."

"This was my first opportunity to speak in front of a crowd," Rahman says. "Islam accepts others. And the moderate Muslim majority, like me, needs to speak out loudly as education, knowledge and understanding is the only path to disarm Islamophobia."

On life and education

Seventeen-year-old Victor Cyrus, Jr., an impressive senior at Carl Wunsche Sr. High School, articulated with poise the need to continue to seek perfection amidst an imperfect world.

"I imagine a time when the word change isn't a campaign slogan," Cyrus said in his talk, Living a Life of Meaning, Everyday.

"Who am I to define meaning? Meaning is in the little things we do, like picking up a piece of trash, like smiling at someone who needs to see a smile. The little things we do, that one simple decision, has the greatest impact."

Cyrus hopes to affect change by pursuing a life of political service. He awaits an admission decision from Harvard University.

"I have done public speaking at school, mostly spoken word poetry," Cyrus told CultureMap. "But to be on a beautiful stage in front of a paying audience, I am humbled and honored."

Mario Salinas was found blue, motionless and clinically dead shortly after he entered the world. Doctors were successful in bringing him back yet because of seizures and lack of oxygen, his brain had suffered extensive damage. His mother was told he would never talk nor walk.

Where there is a challenge, there's opportunity, he said. Just be realistic, utilize all your available resources and be patient. 

 "In school, I was learning what other people wanted me to, things they thought was important," she says. "I wasn't in control of my own education."

Standing on the TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands stage, his speech was eloquent, emotional and beautifully crafted and was filled with anecdotes about how his stutter affected him socially. First a bully, then the class clown.

When fear, shame, denial and anxiety morphed into courage, Salinas' life changed. Today, the 30 year-old works in the City of Houston Public Works Department and hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology at Rice University. 

Fabian Fernandez-Han transformed a chess game into a musical composition. His message was clear: Find connections where others see incongruities.

Frustration and isolation prompted Lone Star philosophy student Matthew Williams to study human social interactions closely. He imagined a world where language is cautiously considered to avoid confusion.

"I have broken connectors, underdeveloped sections of my brain that are essential to the human condition," Williams says while describing autism. "In my world, the unwritten rules of social norms do not exists, and you are not aware of them until you break one."

School may not be the ideal learning environment for everyone thought 16-year-old Taylor Cull, a junior in high school and dual credit student at Lone Star College.

"In school, I was learning what other people wanted me to, things they thought was important," she says. "I wasn't in control of my own education."

Cull reached that conclusion after an exhausting freshman year. Participating in extracurricular activities left no time for the exploration of personal curiosities. She redesigned her educational journey from one of fierce competition with her fellow classmates to setting learning benchmarks exclusively for her interests. It was about taking control of her education and her destiny.

"Social interactions in public schools are not always positive, " she continues. "A lot of colleagues put you down as part of the competitive spirit. Yet in home schooling all social interactions are positive."

At the end of each talk, presenters were encouraged to leave a small memento and contribute to an abstract sculpture made up of boxes and artifacts. The culminating communal work captured the ethos of the passionate and intellectually-charged ideas worth spreading at TEDxYouth@TheWoodlands.