Students Engage in 'World of Ideas' at TEDxBlairAcademy
Melissa Collins

More than 100 students and teachers gathered for the second TEDxBlairAcademy conference on February 28, the third event in a three-year collaboration with Gill St. Bernard's School. In the spirit of events sponsored by TED—a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks—it was fitting that the School hosted its second TEDx (the "x" denoting an independently organized event) in the Chiang-Elghanayan Center for Innovation and Collaboration's Collaboration Forum, a space on Blair's campus that is frequently used for similar gatherings.

The daylong conference kicked off with a welcome from Blair history department chair Jason Beck, who again organized the event with Michael Chimes, a college counselor at Gill, before launching into talks and presentations by seven juniors and seniors from Blair and Gill. The event also featured prerecorded TED talks and a guest lecture by Sam Tarantino, a businessman, musician and entrepreneur. Mr. Tarantino, brother of Leo '18, has founded two start-ups, and he spoke on experiencing failure and how to bounce back from it.

"The whole point of the TEDx is to give kids the opportunity to engage in the world of ideas, apart from their day-to-day experience inside the classroom," said Mr. Beck. "Students generated the presentations, and students were the audience. It really is about students talking with their peers about the things about which they're passionate."

Listening, Learning & Sharing Ideas

Mr. Beck gave his students responsibility for creating TEDx conference content, inviting them to "draft a proposal for a TED talk on a subject that you find interesting and that you are passionate about." He was pleased to receive more than 20 proposals, a sign that his students are eager to explore and share their ideas with a larger audience. Ultimately, three Blair students were chosen to present at TEDxBlairAcademy.

"I hope the students see that we all have subjects that we're interested in, and that it's important to share those passions with other people," Mr. Beck said. In addition to the excitement of students willing to present at the TEDx event, many juniors and seniors were also enthusiastic about gleaning bits of knowledge and wisdom from others, as evidenced by the many TEDx attendees who filled the Collaboration Forum.

Blair Student Presentations

Despite past hesitation to discuss her topic, Linda Tong '19 was excited to present on neurodiversity at the conference. "I have always wanted to talk about this topic, but, in the past, I have not had the courage or appropriate platform," she said. "Blair's TEDx conference seemed like the perfect opportunity to discuss it."

During her talk, Linda shed light on the "unique strengths" of neurological differences and aimed to confront and dismiss the stigma that often surrounds mental disabilities. "I hope the audience will come to value neurodiversity, rather than simply viewing autism and other neurological disorders as disabilities and deficits," she said.

Fernando Doddoli '19 hoped to inspire others to act on their ideas without fear of failure through his TED talk on goal setting, self-confidence and achieving "the impossible." By sharing a narrative about personal struggles he faced over the last two years in trying to start a company at a young age, Fernando told attendees, "I want to let everyone know that even though they may be facing difficult circumstances in their lives, it is always better to try and see the outcome than to do nothing."

"In the world we live in, a vast majority of teenagers and adults limit themselves and think that they can not achieve their goals," said Fernando, explaining why he felt so strongly about sharing his story at the event. "I believe I can change that."

In her address, Onome Akinbode-James '18, a native of Nigeria, shared her passion for fighting misconceptions and stereotypes about Africa and its people. As a student attending school so far from home, Onome has experienced firsthand many judgments by others who are misinformed about the continent where she grew up. "Even though these narratives were often not applicable to everyone, people tended to make conclusions about me as a person solely based on narratives they have heard about where I am from."

Hoping to combat these preconceived ideas, Onome disclosed stories from her personal experience to urge others to seek out information from multiple sources, instead of just one, and to dispel stereotypes as being "universal." She also shared with the audience how she is actively working toward that goal on a local level in her hometown in Nigeria.

Empowering Kids

Throughout the conference, Mr. Beck was impressed by the students' presentations, as well as by audience members' attentiveness to others' thoughts and beliefs. Looking forward, he hopes students will continue to share their ideas, while also being open to learning from others.

"It's empowering for kids to realize they can be thought creators and that they don't simply have to be recipients of others' knowledge," he said. "Students can create and share their own ideas with the world, and TEDxBlairAcademy is a great mechanism for doing that."

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