Making the path

TEDx UVA brings ideas worth spreading to Grounds


During TEDx UVA, student speakers presented short talks related to the theme “make a path.”

Manali Sontakke | Cavalier Daily

One-hundred eager students filed into Nau Hall Saturday for the second annual TEDxUVA event. With talks on topics ranging from education reform to mountain climbing, the speakers were united by a central theme — “make the path” — adopted from Stephen Colbert’s valedictory speech last spring.

Only 100 out of the 700 people who requested tickets attended the live event, though organizers had the talks streamed in several locations around Grounds — including OpenGrounds, GrandMarc apartments and Newcomb and Observatory Hill dining halls.

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In locations with special streaming, short courses were offered on a variety of topics ranging from Photoshop to improv comedy. Each course focused on hands-on learning and included 10 to 15 people. Second-year College student and TEDx Special Events Committee Chair Abbie Sharpe said she hoped the short courses and livestream would allow everyone to participate in the event.

“We are happy that [so] many people want to come,” Sharpe said. “Obviously we wish we could accommodate everyone, but with the livestream we are hoping that everyone feels that they can experience it to some extent.”

The organizing team placed a heavy emphasis on the interactive nature of the event, encouraging speakers and students to talk to each other during breaks throughout the day. Sharpe said TEDxUVA is not a speaker series, but a conference, and students who come are not audience members, but attendees.

“I think it is interesting to feed your mind with interesting things but also to contribute back in some way,” Sharpe said. “TEDx’s mission is ‘ideas worth spreading,’ so it’s not just one speaker giving them to students, but rather the transaction goes both ways. I think that is what’s really unique about TED.”

Fourth-year Engineering student Kevin McVey was one of two student speakers at the event, having won the TEDx speaker competition in the fall. He was joined by University professors and other figures invited by the speaker committee.

In his talk, McVey told a story of how he founded a small country called “The Kingdom of Ardent.” McVey said his inspiration for founding a digitally-based country came from the country of Monaco, in their entrance for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“Monaco has the worst track record of anyone at the Olympic games,” McVey said. “They have been going for 100 years and haven’t won anything, and these people were amped. They were the most excited, enthusiastic people, and that to me was weirdly really inspiring. … I decided that I should start my own country.”

McVey began the Kingdom of Ardent by creating a website, designing a flag, drafting a constitution and offering dual citizenship to whoever wanted to join. Before long, 400 people from six different continents were citizens of his country and referred to him as “King Kevin I.”

A military formed alongside a functioning government and an economy that traded digital currency. There were even talk shows broadcast to citizens.

People began to salute McVey as he walked the halls of his high school — he was nearly expelled for starting “gang activity.” A new school rule was created: no student may start a country.

“It’s really affected the way that I view the world and the way I view leadership and public engagement and how I interact with people,” McVey said.

Attendees left the event inspired, filled with new ideas and ready to make their own path.

“There are so many interesting stories and you never [know] how diverse the student body [is] on Grounds,” first-year Engineering student Drew Biedermann said. “You have people who start their own countries, people who have done all this interesting stuff that you never knew was possible at this age.”

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