This afternoon I was fortunate enough to attend the third annual TEDxUNC conference. Already an avid TED Talks fan (ask Professor Robinson), I was delighted to see how empowering the TED conferences are firsthand.
If you aren’t familiar with TED, it is a nonprofit organization that is devoted to ideas worth spreading. The organization began in 1984 to bring three different worlds together: Technology, Entertainment and Design but has since sparked a movement to motivate and educate the world by sharing stories. The TED website says their mission is to, “bring together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes or less).”
The conference at UNC brought some of the most accomplished alumni, outstandingly innovative people in the community, unique artists and eloquently speaking students to present their “ideas worth spreading” to the Chapel Hill community. All day I was immersed in a variety of new ideas and innovations by a few of the brave willing to share their stories with the world.
I first became a fan of TED Talks through various classes in the UNC Journalism and Mass Communication School, especially Professor Robinson’s class. The beauty of sharing a story, idea or innovation in less than 18 minutes is captivating and leaves you thinking and provokes discussion within classes and communities alike. Today there were a variety of speakers including two UNC students, a beekeeper, an astronaut, professors, artists, a former CIA agent and entrepreneurs, among others.
A few left me thinking more which is the only true sign of a successful TED Talk.
One of the most eloquent, articulate speakers of the day was a fellow UNC student. Safiyah Ismail is a current student at Carolina studying Public Health. If you passed her in the Quad you wouldn’t look twice, she is just the same as you or me. But, what a story she has… Ismail’s perfectly crafted speech tied everything together better than any speaker of the day. Her life has revolved around sign language, though she is not deaf. When she was a child, she dug for worms every day with a fellow classmate who happened to be deaf. She learned sign language and was fluent in a mere five months, and Ismail’s life has changed because of it. Today, she strives to create unity in the global use of sign language and is the founder of the UNC American Sign Language club where she strives to create a more inclusive community for the deaf within Carolina.
My favorite speaker of the day was Dr. Jerry Linenger, a fellow Tar Heel and one of the United States’ greatest astronauts and heroes. With the highest accolades NASA awards and a retired U.S. Navy flight surgeon, Linenger shared one of the most intriguing stories I have ever heard today.
Captain Linenger was full of enthusiasm as he narrated a synopsis of his five month mission in space and the trials and tribulations he encountered while aboard the spacecraft (keep in mind Linenger is known for being a member of one of the toughest space missions to date). He explained his final thoughts during a fire in the spacecraft that he believed would end his life. Linenger’s realization was that out of everything in his life, his final thoughts were about his loved ones, the ones he cared about most.
Linenger discussed the spontaneity of life and how man and technology all came together to send him to space. His family lineage and technological advancements throughout his life coincided to place him on the moon. While he enjoyed his time in space, he enjoyed his time on Earth even more with his friends and family by his side. Captain Linenger asked how many of us had taken a second in our day to think about the breath we breathe, none of us had even thought about it. He said he thinks about his breaths on Earth every morning when he wakes up as he counts his blessings.
Captain Linenger stepped off the stage in the first standing ovation of the day, leaving everyone wanting more.
Another impressive speaker of the day was John Wood, founder and board co-chair of Room to Read. Wood’s speech embodied his outlook that “world change starts with educated children” while simultaneously explaining his life motto of “GSD – Get Sh*t Done.” The incorporation of truth and humor provided a comical yet motivational message to take action rather just talking about it. His success shines brightly and shows that the “GSD” strategy works as Wood left Microsoft at the age of 35 to create a non-proftit, called Room to Read, that has now benefitted 7.8 million children worldwide by creating books in languages of underdeveloped countries and creating libraries for kids across the globe.
John Wood had the second, and final, standing ovation of the day demonstrating that last is definitely not the least.
TED is a truly innovative and cutting-edge organization that provides ideas worth sharing across the world. I am hoping that TEDxUNC will post videos of today’s speeches because the stories are worth sharing with friends and family. If you haven’t experienced a TED Talk, you should go explore the abundance of talks on the TED website or simply search YouTube for a few of the best.
I would also just like to take a moment and express how impressed I was about the TEDxUNC event which is entirely student-run and organized. Every detail, from the decorating, speakers, food trucks, breakout sessions, ukelele players and more, were executed with professionalism and precision. The day was thought provoking, educational and enjoyable. I would love the opportunity to be involved in the planning of the 2015 TEDxUNC event, but I guess we will have to see what the future holds.