Students impress in TEDxUVA competition

Out-of-classroom intellect sparks thought, two winners selected


Great ideas, stimulating speeches and burgers — what more could you want from a weekday night at Boylan? This past Tuesday at 8 p.m., the restaurant hosted the TEDxUVA student speaker competition, in which 12 nominated students shared their ideas in front of a crowd, competing for two select student spots at the main event in February 2014.

TEDxUVA is an independently organized subsidiary of TED Conferences, which sponsors conferences around the world and totes the slogan “Ideas worth spreading.” During February’s event, various speakers from the University will deliver short talks that are “sure to engage in thoughtful dialogue that crosses academic boundaries,” according to the TEDxUVA website.

The two student speakers, second-year College student Karsten Coates and fourth-year Engineering student Kevin McVey were selected last Tuesday.

Second-year College student Porter Nenon is head curator for TEDxUVA and founded the CIO last year.

“I wanted to start TEDxUVA because the TED atmosphere is so unique,” he said. “I thought it was a good addition to the traditional classroom learning that a lot of U.Va. students get. Plus it’s really fun, low-key and cutting edge.”

For the student speaker competition for 2014’s event, organizers encouraged any student at the University to submit a proposal for their talk. A committee then selected 25 people to make one-minute videos, which the public could vote for online. The top 12 videos went on to the competition at Boylan Heights.

At the competition, each contestant spoke for five minutes, touching on everything from lucid dreaming to religion and gross national happiness. Attendees were given three votes to cast to chose the winner, and selected Coates and McVey.

“Kevin and Karsten both blew us away and the attendees and the vote count showed that,” Nenon said. “[They] did such a phenomenal job that it will just add to the event in February to have both of them.”

Coates spoke about the difference between love and lust, presented through a spoken-word poem based on a letter he wrote in pre-school to the first girl he ever loved.

“I feel like my topic is one that most people already deal with, or struggle with,” Coates said. “The thing I’m talking about it isn’t that we need to repress sexual desire or anything of that nature, but to make sure that we are making an effort to see the difference between lust and love.”

Coates said in February he will perform two other poems in addition to the one he presented last week.

McVey spoke of the Kingdom of Ardent, a country he started in high school which 400 people joined.

“My talk outlines a sort of too-strange-to-be-made-up story from my life where I, sort of as a joke, started my own country,” he said. “And, over the course of a year, it grew beyond my control … The people ended up organizing themselves and ended up accomplishing really great things together in order to emulate the workings of a country.”

Though only two winners could be selected, Nenon said that the competition was only part of the event’s appeal.

“I thought all 12 of the talks were really high caliber so I was really happy with that, and that people came, and listened and enjoyed themselves,” Nenon said.

related stories