We’re Here! TEDx Middlebury 2013

tedxmidd13It’s TEDx Middlebury 2013! Audrey and I will be updating MiddBlog today with summaries of the thirteen speakers. Stay tuned for lots of insight, nuggets of wisdom, and so much more. Check out the live stream of the event here. And keep up with our twitter feed for live coverage from @MiddBlog! (Apologies in advance for the sporadic nature of our updating, we’ll make sure it’s all in order once the symposium has ended!)

Intro: The morning started out with introductions and thank your from the students who made this year’s TEDx event possible. MiddBlog would also like to reiterate the thank you to Liz Robinson at the Project for Creativity and Innovation for her unwavering support to events like TEDx and student projects across campus! Onto the speakers and their takes on this year’s theme: The Road Not Taken.

First speaker: Andy Nagy-Benson is the pastor of The Congregational Church of Middlebury. He opened with a quote from “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost. He talked about how “the road not taken” could also be interpreted as a “vocation found.” Many people discuss ministry as a “calling” and Andy sees it as the need to serve one of the world’s great needs that meets with one’s personal passion. He told an emotional story about his first day as a student chaplain at a hospital when he was paged on his first day to baptize a baby girl who was being kept on life support in the neonatal unit. After the baptism, the little girl died soon after, yet the nurse in the unit stayed with the family for hours afterwards. Andy said that it is this “with” that made the difference. He supplemented with other touching stories of the children’s book “The Frog and the Toad” and an anecdote of a teenage service trip to Virginia. He ended by saying that it is a challenge and a privilege to live a life of being “with.”

Second speaker: Ai-Jen Poo is the Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). She introduced her talk by honoring her grandmother as an important caregiver in her own life. However, despite her grandmother’s cheerful outlook on life (she laughs three times a day), she needs a caregiver to help her complete everyday chores. Using the story of her grandmother, Ai-Jen highlights the problem that as a country, the United States does not care for those who take care of others. Warning that the rapidly aging population of the US will require more domestic workers, Ai-Jen envisions a county in which caregivers get the support they need. She sees the possibility of a caring economy grounded in the values of respect and relationships. To get to this point as a national community, she asks us how we, as individuals, can care for others. Can we call our parents more? Can we look after our neighbors better? To whom can we offer a smile?

Third speaker: A TED talk by Bryan Stevenson, “We need to talk about an injustice.”

Fourth speaker: Natalie Randolph is the first female varsity football coach in Washington, DC. If this accomplishment was not enough, she also has improved the academic ability of her students. Natalie focused her talk on how her experiences with her students helped her on a life-long journey of self-learning. She took us back to her first days as coach. Acknowledging the unexpectedness of her becoming a coach, Natalie pointed out that teenagers can smell the b***s*** from miles away. So while she knew that she couldn’t put on a front, she found that her students identified and latched onto the caring she showed. From there, the relationship between her and her team developed into one of Adele lipdubs and videos of her students playing with her hair. With these hilarious and loving videos, Natalie ended by saying that “the best things happen when you let yourself be you.”

Fifth speaker: To say that Jamie Laidlaw ’02 is an avid skier is an understatement. Jamie’s passion for adventure has led him to ski descents in Alaska, the Andes, the Himalayas, and the Arctic. Jamie discussed the challenge and adventure that comes with risk, particularly one in the mountains. Often times trekking alone, he spoke of the personal nature of these explorations and the value of relationships we make with other people who then become an extension of yourself. Twice Jamie has been turned back from the summit which he obviously states was heartbreaking. Yet in these failures, you are given a learning experience in order to better achieve success in the future. You know you have given 100% when you turn back. He ended by saying that he believes it is one of the greatest gifts to know oneself. And you don’t get that from comfort.

Sixth speaker: Kate Clopeck is the executive director of Community Water Solutions. Yet for years she pursued another path as an aerospace engineer. Being a patient person, it took Kate awhile to realize that her true path was in Ghana working to achieve universal clean water access. She told the story of her organization’s trials in buying a truck in order to reach more areas of Ghana. After numerous problems with finding a truck, money transfers and more, Kate, a self-proclaimed patient person realized that even though there may be more ups and downs working in Ghana, it was still where she was meant to be.

Seventh speaker: A TED talk by Candy Chang, “Before I die I want to…”.

Eighth speaker: Ryan Kim ’14 is the winner of the TEDx Middlebury student speaker competition. He spent this past summer using the Amtrak system to travel the country by rail. Pointing out that only 8% of the American population lives in cities, Ryan used this time to get to know some of the smaller, yet still richly cultural corners of the country. Anecdotes included eating the best fried chicken in Louisiana, riding a rodeo jockey’s horse in Colorado, and more.

Ninth speaker: A TED talk by Sugata Mitra, on new experiments in self-teaching. Sugata recently won the TED prize, which includes $10 million towards the recipient’s idea.

Tenth speaker: Polly Young-Eisendrath is a scholar who blends Buddhism with Western psychology. Beginning her talk by bring up the houselights and saying hello to all of us, Polly then launched into a tender topic: self-consciousness and self-centeredness. Polly discussed the idea that we can control and manage our lives as counter to our happiness. Defining happiness as the state in which you don’t want to be in another state, Polly then brought up several uniquely human emotions, such as shame, guilt, envy, and jealousy, that pose as obstacles to this happiness. To overcome these challenges, Polly suggests three challenges: 1) remember that you are tiny and that the world is large, 2) spend one to three days without a mirror, 3) become engaged in your immediate world. She offered some examples and experiments in engaging with these challenges, but we’ll leave it up to you to figure out what those three things might mean to you.

Eleventh speaker: Derek Amato was a competitive athlete who, after a series of seven concussions, discovered his virtuosic ability to play the piano. Derek told his own story of growing up and getting head injuries. He then discussed the importance of taking a gift and finding a way to share it with the world. That way, Derek argues, people will start coming to find you. To further inspire us to live purposeful lives, Derek ended his talk with “Ho Hey” by The Lumineers.

Twelfth speaker: Dean Karlan is a Professor of Economics at Yale University, social entrepreneur, and the founder of a stickK.com, a website that uses behavioral analysis to help. people achieve their goals. The focus of Dean’s talk was on microsaving. He brought us from his first wide-eyed days in Central America in the early 90’s to the research he does today on economic behavior. Some of the insights he has learned include the importance of knowing people and knowing language to change human behavior. With these findings, Dean has developed innovative mechanisms to increase savings in communities across the developing world. The secret to this entrepreneurial and ground-breaking work? Understanding what people actually do, not what people should do.

Thirteenth speaker: Dr. Victoria Sweet is a Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. Sweet began her medical career at the Lagunda Honda Hospital in San Francisco, where she intended to stay for 2 months, but ended up working there for 20 years. From those two decades of service, Sweet told one story about an alcoholic woman who took two years to recover from a bed sore. Energized the idea that caring about a patient is caring for the patient, Sweet tried to integrate the verititos or the life-force back into her patient. Some of that includes fresh air and free time to help build patient-doctor relationships. While that may seem uneconomical, Sweet argues that there is efficiency in inefficiency. To drive her point home, Sweet presented some slides about the simultaneous increase in hospital paperwork and the decrease in medical practitioners over the years. This, Sweet argues, is evidence of doing less with more. In the end, Sweet ends the last talk of the day by arguing the need to shift from efficient to personal medicine.

Reflections: Several themes that came up during the interlude reflections were finding meaning, purpose, and connection in our lives. As college students, many of us are on the path to finding how we are going to lead a fulfilling life. It’s apparent from the variety of today’s empowering talks that we each have our own path and that we will each connect the dots in our own ways.

That’s all for TEDx Middlebury 2013. Thank you to all of the coordinators and speakers for making this shared experience possible (and for giving us all of the great biographical information).


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