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Art&Seek Jr. Meets TEDxKids

Amid all the holiday hub bub, I was lucky enough to be a fly on the wall for a fantastic TEDxKids@SMU event at Dallas City Performance Hall on Friday.

The Dallas City Performance Hall was Inspiration Central at TEDxKids@SMU last Friday. Photo: TEDxSMU

For those of unfamiliar with the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conferences, the events are global talks (live streamed around the world) that bring together thinkers, solution seekers and the curious to ask “why not?” They’re all about idea sharing. BIG idea sharing. Topics discussed fall into the science and culture categories, but what makes the whole thing truly interesting is speakers have a maximum of 18 minutes to present their ideas. This rapid-fire approach keeps the talks engaging and innovative. The “x” in the title means it’s a locally organized event, which, in our case means SMU. Picture a huge idea and inspiration mosh pit and you’ve got TEDx.

I love the concept of sharing ideas, which was why I was so excited to learn about the TEDx event for middle-school aged kids. The conference was attended by 450 kids and was offered free of charge with the stipulation that students commit to completing a service learning project. It was strictly a “kids only” event with the students occupying the main auditorium and adults ushered to the balcony with instructions to “just watch.” In an age when parents and teachers organize and micro-manage every aspect of kids’ lives, this was huge. It was refreshing to see an event that engaged the kids directly without the adult middleman.

 The conference had a great line up of speakers and featured both student and adult presenters. Everyone, without exception, had an engaging story and an inspirational call to action message.

Some of the standout speakers included Tracy Walder, a former CIA/FBI counter-terrorism agent turned high school history teacher. She used her unusual career path to illustrate the importance of living an authentic life and not being held back by “why.” The question, she explained, can give you tunnel vision and shouldn’t dictate how you live your life.

Lewis Warren, a 16-year-old piano prodigy, hooked the audience with a game. The kids shouted out a style of music: rock, country, Alicia Keys, etc., and Lewis would play it back to the theme of Star Wars. I’m still in awe.

Speaker Courtney Ferrell shares with kids the secrets of an extraordinary life. Photo: TEDxSMU

The presentation that left me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes was from Dallas mom Courtney Ferrell, who shared the secrets to an extraordinary life. At the beginning of her presentation, Ferrell asked the audience to think of one special thing they are good at and keep it to themselves — they’ll need it for later. She then plucked an ordinary girl out of the audience and asked her to sit on stage. Through Ferrell’s talk about leading your life with passion and purpose the girl sits, to the point where, I, at least, am dying to know what’s going to happen to this girl on the stool. As her talk winds down, Ferrell talks about the notion of believing in yourself, believing in each other and, most importantly, the passion of a standing ovation. She invites the audience to recall their special talent. She then asks the girl on the stage to reveal hers, but before she does, Ferrell asks the audience to think about their reaction. Will it be ordinary or extraordinary? The girl reveals her special accomplishment in a voice so quiet and shy I couldn’t even hear her. There’s a pause and then everyone jumps to their feet and the entire hall explodes with applause. I’m fairly certain most of the kids didn’t hear her either, but the important thing is that they were being supportive. The look on the child’s face was priceless. Ferrell finished with, “We believe in your ability to lead an extraordinary life.” Yes. Yes we do.

Therese Powell is an Art&Seek calendar coordinator and KERA-TV producer.  She spends most of her free time seeking out adventures for her 7-year-old daughter, Rose.  If you’d like to leave a comment you can contact Therese at tpowell@kera.org.