TEDxUVA hosts ‘5 Seconds of Courage’ for 2018 conference

Seven speakers discussed humility, challenges, achievement in the Rotunda Dome Room

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First-year College student George Messenger won the TEDxUVA Student Speaker competition in the fall. He modified the winning speech slightly to engage with the “5 Seconds of Courage” theme and explored the similarities between hip-hop and classical poetry. 

Chandler Collins | Cavalier Daily

TEDxUVA hosted its annual conference in the Rotunda Saturday. This year’s theme was “5 Seconds of Courage” and included seven speakers who gave 18-minute speeches on the topic of overcoming boundaries and setbacks to achieve their goals.

Saturday’s conference is one of two main events TEDxUVA hosts annually — the other being the Student Speaker Competition every fall, where students perform speeches at Boylan Heights, and audience members vote for their favorites to move on to the conference. TEDxUVA started in 2013, and Saturday was the first time the conference was held in the Rotunda. Sarah Towler, a University alumna and former director of Logistics for TEDxUVA, returned for the conference and said she was pleased with the way the organization has continued to grow and improve.

“Every year, the event has been in a different location, so it’s been a different conference,” Towler said. “It’s been really amazing to watch. I think this year, especially being in such an iconic U.Va. space, really highlights how the ideas are spreading.”

Colston Carr, a University alumna and accounts executive at Google, opened the conference with a speech touching on her own experience. She read directly from her own journal written at the time she had moved to Australia and was searching for a job. She offered her tips for overcoming fear. 

“Really actively listening, putting your focus on the other person and getting out of your own head is something I find very humbling,” Carr said. “Also being inspired by a mission that is larger, and making sure when you’re talking to yourself, you’re a champion and an advocate for trying something new.”

In fall 2017, first-year College student George Messenger won the TEDxUVA Student Speaker Competition. He modified the winning speech slightly to engage with the “5 Seconds of Courage” theme and explored the similarities between hip-hop and classical poetry. 

“It’s funny because as humans we enjoy the same sounds,” Messenger said. “Catullus was writing in triple verse and Migos is doing the same thing now, and it’s still catchy … The general human rhythmic experience is the same.”

Messenger encouraged the audience to see the artistry of hip-hop and to engage more fully with music and their surroundings.

“Listen to music as it was made to be listened to, listen to it for the artistry,” Messenger said. “Understand what you listen to, study up on it, it’s fascinating and enhances your human experience … I ask you to look at the world in color.” 

Bradford and Bryan Manning, University alumni and founders of the charitable clothing brand Two Blind Brothers, also spoke at the conference. At the age of seven, the Manning brothers were diagnosed with Stargardt disease — a progressive disease that destroys central vision over time — and later started Two Blind Brothers to focus on comfort and “sense of touch.” The profits of their company are dedicated to the  Foundation Fighting Blindness, which raises money for research for cures to degenerative eye diseases.

Delivering their talk together, the brother’s spoke about their own journeys from desiring to hide their visual impairment to seeing it as something to be embraced. 

“Two Blind Brothers is a tribute and an exploitation of our blind spots and our cultural blind spots,” Bradford Manning said. “The information that is on the other side of those blurred lines … is actually not as important or as valuable as the challenge, the journey … which opens your creativity and potential, your resourcefulness. Search out your blind spots, embrace your blind spots.” 

Before a 30-minute break, Tim Davis, executive director for Resilience and Leadership Development at the University, spoke about cognitive bias and the importance of humility within leadership programs. 

“Look for evidence that contradicts what you already believe,” Davis said. “When we look for evidence that contradicts our current state of mind, then we’re sure that we’re activating our system to think. That puts us in a humble space, and we can’t do any of this without a healthy dose of humility.” 

Andrea Zepeda, a fourth-year College student and an attendant of both the 2017 and 2018 TEDxUVA conferences, said she was particularly moved by Davis’ focus on humility. 

“Talks like this are why we’re here at U.Va. — to expand our minds and learn new things,” Zepeda said. “I especially loved how Professor Tim Davis correlated his speech with humility. It made me think of something my dad always says, ‘If you don’t know something, don’t be afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’’” 

Frank Stephens, a Down Syndrome research advocate and actor, received a standing ovation following his speech on his own life and how living with Down Syndrome is a life worth living. Stephens gained recognition last October when he testified before members of Congress, urging them to allocate federal funds to research to help people with Down Syndrome. Stephens also talked about his appearance on the red carpet and his roles in the film “Touched by Grace” and television show “Born This Way.”

“I want to make a point that a life with Down syndrome can be as full and exciting as any other,” Stephens said. “I should not have to justify to anyone the extra chromosome that makes me who I am … I truly believe a world without people like me, would be a colder world, a less happy world. Before we go there, I urge all of you, to take some time, to consider what you believe to be the value of a human life.”

The final two speakers were Partha Unnava — who dropped out of college to start his own company — BWHealth, and Carey Albertine, a University alumna and founder of In This Together Media. Unnava explained how dealing with a broken ankle encouraged him to create more comfortable crutches which led him to create a business aimed at providing innovative and affordable products in the sports medicine area. He said the business world needed to have the courage to be more vulnerable and admit to failures. 

“By having the courage to be vulnerable we can actually make an impact,” Unnava said. “Everyone should aspire to be vulnerable enough that another person has the inspiration to take one step in a new direction. I believe if everyone did that, the world would be a better place.”

Albertine talked about the power of stories and the important role they play within our society, and the development of her company In This Together Media, which seeks to promote diversity in today’s media

“We started In This Together Media because we recognised the stories that we tell our children both reflect our society and create our society,” Albertine said. “If you took all the children’s books right now, the story that we would be telling our children is the world is 95 percent white and two-thirds male. Is that the story we want to tell them? … It needs a huge shift in our cultural storytelling.”

Augusta Durham, a third-year College student and co-chair of the logistics team for TEDxUVA, said she thought the whole event was very successful. 

“I think it’s going really well. Having it in the Rotunda is the best venue we’ve ever had,” Durham said. “This is only our fifth year, and has been our best venue. I think it’s a success. Last year was way too long, this year we found the perfect time.”

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