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NASA, Jenga and other topics at this year's TEDxUGA
We've all seen the viral videos. The ones posted on your stoner friend's Facebook page about how school kills creativity or the one on your cool aunt's page with Sheryl Sandberg explaining why we have so few women leaders—they are TED talks. On Friday, March 27, the University of Georgia hosted TEDxUGA for the third year in a row at Tate Grand Hall.
The 15 speakers, all somehow associated with UGA, spoke passionately on topics ranging from monarch butterfly conservations to an analysis on the meaning of 'peace.' Their topics spanned every subject imaginable, but they were all united under the theme – Plus (+) – to expand our minds, improve upon our current state of events and, quite simply, to add to a world that has given so much to us.
While each of the speakers captivated the audience, a few stood out to me as the benchmarks future speakers would aspire to compare to. These particular speeches especially sparked the creativity, wonder and inspiration that the TED foundation hopes to achieve.
Stephanie Jones, a PhD student of UGA and English educator, shared the time when she found an explicit book—Pink Palace, if anybody was looking for a good suggestion—left behind in her classroom. While battling her fear that these young children were losing their innocence way too early, she realized that they related more to these books than they ever would to Of Mice and Men. Through this experience she understood that her students were ready to engage in discussions concerning real-life subjects. So instead of scolding or questioning children for wanting to read more 'explicit' books, such as 13 Reasons Why (which deals with a young girl's suicide), Jones suggested we talk about not only the subject matter of these books, but also why the book caught the child's attention in the first place.
Connor Lewis, another UGA student, had the ability to craft words that struck the heartstrings like any John Green novel. Entranced with space and NASA since a young age, Lewis shared his all-encompassing desolation over NASA's current funding (0.4 percent — significantly lower than 1966's 4.41 percent). In support of the program, Lewis recollected the fame and adoration that followed Neil Armstrong. Not only did landing on the moon signify incredible scientific achievements and expand our knowledge of the universe, it also made a hero for all to look up to. Lewis challenged the audience to look up to the night sky with a sense of hope—not fear.
Associate Professor John Drake may participate in cutting-edge research that attempts to explain the dynamics of biological populations and epidemics, but his 8-year-old daughter is clearly the Jenga champion of the family. Using the classic game to describe the switch from a stable state to an unstable state, from spillover to an epidemic, Drake made science nerds out of us all. His daughter equally charmed the audience with her incredible skills and slight diversion from the rules in order to beat her dad.
Finally, the last person to take the stage, Lemuel LaRoche, also known as “Life," a UGA alumni, expressed his concern that "the world has a strange way of changing us." His main concerns were 1) to inspire children with an inferiority complex and 2) make them see themselves differently—as something more. From this he started “Chess and Community," a program that lets at-risk youth in Athens learn to play the game of chess and relate it to their everyday lives. LaRoche explained the ties between chess and life: always think five moves ahead, don't be the pawn for someone's negative agenda, and more. Ending his speech with a moving poem that encapsulated his message: we need to change the way we treat children and allow them to perceive themselves. LaRoche received a well-deserved standing ovation, and TEDxUGA came to a close.
TEDxUGA definitely lived up the theme. The speakers enriched our minds with new ideas to discuss and dared us all to discover our own ideas that will add to our world.