Innovation Spotlight

TEDxYouth@Austin inspires teens to be "LimitLess" with youth-led conference

TEDxYouth@Austin inspires teens to be "LimitLess"

Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_2
TED x Youth Courtesy of TED
Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_4
Richmond Dewan left, and Louis Lafair. Courtesy of Louis Lafair
Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_1
Courtesy of TED
Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_3
Courtesy of TED
Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_2
Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_4
Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_1
Austin Photo Set: Shelley_ted x youth_march 2013_3

TED has become a worldwide phenomenon. Its mission of "ideas worth spreading," which it does via TED events around the globe that are then broadcast in video talks, often going viral, has proven itself as a way to give individuals, communities and organizations a chance to stimulate local dialogue, inspire people and create change.

Started as a four-day conference in California 26 years ago, the nonprofit organization asks the world’s leading thinkers and doers to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Bono and more. Through TEDx, individuals are able to host local, self-organized events around the world in the spirit of the original TED mission.

This spring, TEDx takes a new turn in Austin, with a special event specifically aimed at young people. On March 30, a group of youth and adult speakers and performers will come together to share their “ideas worth spreading" at TEDxYouth@Austin.

An independently organized event, TEDxYouth@Austin is created to bring middle and high school students from the central Texas area into the TEDx movement. With engaging stories, inspiring performances, and intriguing presentations, the idea is to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group.

The theme of TEDxYouth@Austin is LimitLess, encouraging youth to limit themselves less: to dream more, imagine more, connect more and create more. "Too often, youth feel bounded, unable to make true impacts or to pursue their passions," states the website. "Left out of some of the larger conversations, their voices fade, and their ideas vanish. And yet, we’ve found that youth, when given the opportunity, are able to think, discuss, and act with incredible insight. We want to provide that opportunity, to spark the future of ideas."

"It's impossible to fully describe or understand the tremendous impact of a TEDx event until you've been to one," says Louis Lafair, a junior at St. Stephen's High School and the youth lead for TEDxYouth@Austin. "The energy, the atmosphere and the connections are truly life-changing."

A friend of Lafair's introduced him to TED talks a while back, and Lafair, 17, quickly became hooked. "When I first heard about independently organized events, particularly about TEDxAustin, I naturally wanted to go. TEDxAustin, though, was technically for adults (18 and up) only, and I was just 15 at the time." He did eventually get to go to a TEDxAustin event, which he says was one of the best days of his life.

"Over the course of the day, I saw (and got to meet) numerous phenomenal speakers, many of whom received standing ovations and possessed fascinating ideas. For me, though, it wasn't just the speakers that made the event such a highlight of my life — it was the energy, the atmosphere, the people sitting next to me. All around me, there were incredible people, many of whom had fascinating ideas themselves."

Then Lafair heard about TEDxYouth, and decided to organize his own. He went to the head of St. Stephen's, got together a team of a few teachers and friends, and helped put on a small-scale event with speakers and attendees from St. Stephen's as well as three other ISAS private schools. "It didn't turn out perfectly," Lafair admits. "We were limited by several factors — but it was a decent start."

Then he teamed with Nancy Giordano, the licensee for TEDxAustin, and Carol Reese, a West Ridge Middle School teacher who was named Teacher of the Year in Texas. After a year of hard work by the three of them, along with a team of about 20 people, TEDxYouth@Austin is a reality.

"There are going to be 10 speakers, and a few performers. We're not revealing the lineup until the day of the event to try to create an air of mystery and openness that's not prevalent in day-to-day life," Lafair adds.

Richmond Dewan, a junior at Hyde Park Baptist High School, became involved for many reasons — not the least of which was the opportunity to meet extraordinary and revolutionary people. "There was no way I was missing an opportunity to immerse my life in this world of TED," says Dewan, who was a speaker at the small St. Stephen's event, and calls it one of the most exhilarating days of his life.

"I loved being in the circle of creativity and in such a unique way." When Lafair approached him about being involved in the TEDxYouth@Austin event, Dewan immediately said yes.

The 17-year-old is serving as the youth lead for communications, website and logistics, and will also be the production and stage manager on the day of the event. He hopes one day to have a career that allows him to work on similar events, and says the connections he has made through TEDxYouth are priceless.

"It seriously has changed my life. I cannot be more excited or proud of what this team and Austin have created, and I am looking forward to seeing how the attendees and speakers interact."

"Our event is so unique," Dewan continues, "because they get to meet each other and network, and trust me, it is not everyday that students get to meet such amazing people. I can't wait to see all the exploration and workings that come from the event."

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TEDxYouth@Austin takes place March 30 from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the Westlake Performing Arts Center. More information is available on the event website.