“Be the Change”

By John Anderson

On Friday evening, eight Auburn students were joined by three adults in a TEDx event about how to “Be the Change”. The quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi has a few variations, but the message is the same, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Auburn students selected the theme after AHS senior Nicole Garry addressed the eighth grade class during a field trip to the high school in September and utilized the quote in her presentation. Eighth grader Bre Leon immediately connected with the quote and asked if it could be a guiding theme for the TED talks that students were composing at the time.

TEDx.4976According to organizer Sarah Connell, an eighth grade teacher at Auburn Middle School, “Only two middle schools were granted TEDx licenses in Massachusetts during 2013, and we are so proud to be one of them. Our eclectic program includes the presentations of a “fangirl,” a video activist, a portrait photographer, a football player, a police officer, a military child, a summer camp director, and a group of charismatic students who do not take their adolescence lightly.”

TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. The TED Conference provides general guidance for TEDx programs.

TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. Started as a four-day conference in California almost 30 years ago, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with multiple initiatives. The two annual TED Conferences invite the world’s leading thinkers and doers to speak for 18 minutes on a diverse mix of topics. Many of these talks are then made available, free, at TED.com. TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, and Philippe Starck.

After a welcome by AMS Principal Joe Gagnon, senior Jeanelle Wheeler hit the stage with an inspirational speech about her non-traditional high school education that has included homeschooling, college courses, high school participation, and even foreign travel. In her words, “The world. The world is my classroom.”

School Resource Officer Brian Kennedy of the Auburn Police Dept. followed with a frank discussion about combatting the culture of bullying. The talk focused on two high profile teen suicides directly linked to being bullied.

AMS eighth grader Kathryn Bernard spoke about “The Art of Fangirling” and how music has helped her cope with bullying. The confidence of this young woman was inspiring, and the reaction from her peers was special. “Music has changed my life for the better. Can it change yours?”

Alexus Kubert-Gusman, also an eighth grader, talked about using Facetime to stay connected with her father while he was deployed in Afghanistan. The contact strengthened their relationship since the “kids serve along side the soldiers.”

Todd Stewart, executive director of a summer camp for “at-risk” children, explained the REAPS concept which drives the camp’s philosophy. The acronym stands for Recognition, Experiences, Affection, Power, and Security. “If you start with REAPS, people will follow you and you will be the change you wish to see in the world.”

AMS eighth grader Evan Jewell related how “Art and music can spark a sense of creativity and can make a person more open minded.” His aspirations for college and athletics are influenced by this concept. “When you’re open minded, you can accomplish anything.”

Sonja Jasinski, a portrait photographer from Newburyport, Massachusetts, spoke next and shared personal experiences from her youth. Her fears about not fitting in and “not being seen” shifted as she grew up. Her new perspective is “seeing what I have, and what I have to offer to others”, an “attitude of gratitude.”

Eighth grader Ana Pietrewicz offer five valuable reminders for adults about growing up: Remember how to play; Ask pointless questions; Laugh regularly; Let loose; and Love unconditionally. “In the crazy world we live in today, it can be hard to remember to stay grounded. Like like you’re never going to get older.”

Katelyn Norwood gave some interesting perspectives on standardized testing, well beyond the usual expectations of an AMS eighth grader. She described the nervousness of taking the MCAS and the perceived failure of a “needs improvement” score. She proposed optional areas of testing like art and music for “the kid that excels in the arts, but has struggled his or her whole life in math.”

Auburn High senior Nicole Garry spoke about how social media is drastically altering the way ideas are spread in the modern world. As president of the Invisible Children Club, she has seen how film and media have spurred social activism.

AMS eighth grader Kelsey Malboeuf concluded the event with her discussion about emotions. Her core message is that a person’s strength is revealed by expressing emotions rather than repressing them.

This TEDx event was fantastic, and a future presentation would be wonderful. Hat’s off to all the participants.