Presenters at Wilmington’s first TEDx Youth program on Sunday included more than a dozen students and a teacher, and although many were new to the stage, each appeared as seasoned, confident speakers. The Ted Talks were personal and passionate, as speakers touched on themes including prejudice, the threat of immigration, emotional adversity, second chances, even the joy of getting messy with art!
The day-long event included a rich pool of talks by students who put some serious effort into creating “ideas worth sharing.” Organizer Ajit George has managed TED Talks for six years in Wilmington, and he was gratified that each of the speakers delivered on the expectation of a high quality performance.
“This was every bit as good as any one of the so-called adult events because the quality of the talks and presentations were equal, if not better, than some of the adult talks,” said George.
An average Ted Talk speaker takes 50 hours to rehearse and prepare for their talk. Students confessed that they had no idea the amount of preparation would be so time consuming. But feeling gratified at their performances on Sunday, several said the TEDx talk was worth the effort. “You could tell they all put in those hours and they did it as well as anyone. It was really inspiring to see,” said George.
All of the TEDx Youth Wilmington talks are available for viewing on YouTube.
Faculty with Ursuline Academy, who were interested in enriching their women in leadership studies program, contacted George last fall about hosting TEDx Talk for youth at their school. And at about the same time, the leadership and college prep organization TeenSHARP also approached George about TEDx Wilmington and asked if some of their students could be incorporated into the youth program. By adding TeenSHARP students, who come from low-income backgrounds but excel academically, it provided a mix of diversity and opened opportunities for students to develop new friendships and share ideas with one another.
The TEDx Youth format is meant to offer a mix of adult and youth speeches – typically 70% adult and 30% student talks. But the judges for the April 2nd event picked more students for the inaugural TEDx Youth program speakers because, according to George, the kids’ applications were simply better than many of the adult applications.
The application process is tough, and the guidelines are exactly the same for adults and youth. Applicants must to submit a comprehensive a 13-page online application as well as a personal video about their topic. A screening committee of 10, including students, Ursuline faculty and administrators within TeenSHARP, read and scored 50 applications and selected the top 18.
George said it is unusual to find this number of students to talk about serious subjects with such conviction and passion. “It was purely accidental that the students really overwhelmed the judges with their presentation applications. If you closed your eyes and listened all day, you would never know you were listening to freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors,” he said.
Maya Showell and Morgan Thornton, who are in fact college freshmen, actually shared the stage for a joint presentation about the reverse prejudice they felt starting at an early age when friends remarked that they weren’t black enough. Maya Howell remembers walking to her 4th grade classroom one day with one of her favorite books when suddenly four of her classmates surrounded her and made comments like, “That book’s for white people. Why are you reading it? You don’t think you’re white, do you?” Howell said she had no idea how skin color was supposed too dictate whether she would find enjoyment in a book.
Howell and Thornton asked the entire audience to stand, read and take a pledge against racism written by the pair but that referenced Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous I Have Dream speech of 1964.
Ursuline Academy sophomore Jane Lyons spoke about children who have gotten in trouble with the law and who now are looking for a second chance. Her talk was inspired by a an athletic and fun-loving 7-year-old neighbor who she knew as a child whose life as a teen spiraled out of control and who eventually was arrested and incarcerated. Moved by that experience, Jane, along with her brother Patrick, started an initiative two years ago called Youth Overcoming Obstacles to raise awareness and funds for the young boys at the Ferris School, which is run by the Delaware Youth Rehabilitative Services. “I ask each of you to think about the mistakes you have made in your lives,” said Lyons. “I’m sure most if not all of you have been lucky enough to have been provided a second chance. When we are given that second opportunity to redeem ourselves and regain our dignity, then we do learn and we do better the next time hopefully.”
The 2017 TEDx Youth Wilmington presenters included:
Does the American Dream Exist for a Girl Like Me?
Ajit George plans to apply for the TEDx Youth Wilmington license again for next spring and will invite kids from other schools to apply and participate.