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Students find inspiration from the words of their peers through TEDxUVA

University students gathered at Boylan Heights for TEDxUVA’s Student Speaker Conference

Talks throughout the evening focused on topics ranging from meme culture to taxes.
Talks throughout the evening focused on topics ranging from meme culture to taxes.

A normal Wednesday at 8 p.m. found over 100 students squeezed into the back section of Boylan Heights’ upstairs bar, craning their necks to see the small stage set up with a rug, lights and a projector screen. Decorated with a TEDx banner, the college bar was transformed into a space of ideas and stories for two hours. 

TEDxUVA hosted their Student Speaker Conference for the sixth year this fall. Sponsored by the U.Va. Parents Fund, this is the first and more casual of the two events hosted by the contracted independent organization each year. In the spring, the organization will host the more formal “TEDxUVA Conference 2020.” Holden Miles, fourth-year Architecture student and co-chair of content, saw this event as important for the student population. 

"There's actually something that you can easily connect with when you hear somebody your own age or in your own class, speaking about something that they're very passionate about,” Miles said. “So we want people to come away with at least one talk that they thought brought a different perspective.”

TEDxUVA hosts independent speaker events in Charlottesville under the mission of the national media organization, TED. The organization has 30 members who help plan both the Student Speaker Conference and the “TEDxUVA Conference 2020.” Grace Douthit, fourth-year Architecture student and co-curator, explained that the 10 students who ultimately spoke on Wednesday night were carefully chosen by both the CIO and the University community. 

“We send out an application open to the public, and people can just apply,” Douthit said. “And then we have everyone in our club nominate people, and then those are the people that we specifically reach out to. From there we have our speakers committee narrow down who they want … and from there people [in the University community] will get to vote who actually moves on to the conference.”

Student speakers participated to make their voices and stories heard and for the opportunity to speak again in the spring.The executive board of the CIO listened to the responses from the audience for each speaker. The enthusiasm of the crowd determined which single student speaker will talk again at the main “TEDxUVA Conference 2020” in February. Attendees such as first-year College student Kyndall Walker came to support friends and found a platform for passionate speakers. 

“I came to support my RA,” Walker said. “I think it's really awesome to see students put on things that they’re passionate about and make it engaging for other kids that are the same age, and it's still really enjoyable for everybody to learn something new while being super relatable with their content.”

The 10 student speakers used humor, references to University culture and well-planned talks to draw in their audience. The first five talks focused on topics ranging from meme culture to taxes.

One speaker, third-year Commerce student Niketas Koussis, told a personal story. He talked about being homeless throughout middle and high school and falling behind in classes. His story was one of perseverance, ending with his acceptance to the McIntire School of Commerce. He ended on an inspirational note, asking listeners to imagine what they could do with their lives if they adopted a similar mindset.

After an intermission, the last five talks included topics like food insecurity as well as assonance and popularity. Surya Ambardar, second-year College student and speaker at the event, caught the attention of his listeners by discussing stage names like Post Malone. 

Another speaker, second-year College student Tsega Fisseha drew his talk from the difficulty people have pronouncing his name. Drawing in his audience with a rap in the beginning of his speech, Fisseha explained the importance of a name for personal identity. 

The TEDxUVA Student Speaker Conference event inspires students to get on stage themselves, and Fisseha spoke about how he found this experience freeing. 

“I could never watch a TED talk without imagining myself up on the stage saying what I have to say,” Fisseha said. “So when I thought of the opportunity a year ago when I was at the last conference, [...] I signed up, and I let it fly.”


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