Camas high school students talk TED

Area’s first TEDx event, based on popular TED Talks, will be held June 8 at Discovery High School

timestamp icon
category icon Schools
Camas High School senior Rachel Blair (left), co-founder of TEDxYouth@Camas, talks with speaker Adam Lewis during a workshop May 11 at Camas Public Library.

For years, Camas High School seniors Monica Chang, Rachel Blair and Abby Jiang have been listening to TED Talks, influential videos from expert speakers on a variety of topics such as education, business, science, technology and creativity curated by the TED Conferences media organization.

Relatively few official TED Talks are held per year, and they usually feature celebrities with enormous influence. But the organization offers a way for more people to get involved through TEDx, independent events similar in presentation to TED Talks.

TEDx events can be organized by anyone who obtains a free license from TED and agrees to follow certain principles.

“I think there’s something really pure and wonderful about the idea of people coming together,” said Chang, who became interested after discovering a TED Talk called “Mathemagic” when she was 8 years old. “You don’t need to be a superstar politician to have an audience. You can just have an idea and people coming together to be inspired and learn things. I feel that’s something that’s rare and really cool.”

The events’ worldwide popularity has grown exponentially during the past few years. As of May 14, the TedX YouTube channel had 134,055 videos and more than 18 million subscribers.

Earlier this year, driven by a desire to further explore their passion and give back to their community, Chang, Blair and Jiang formed a group of Camas High School students that will present TEDxYouth@Camas, which will be held at 5 p.m., Saturday, June 8, at Discovery High School in Camas.

“We think TED talks are a unique way of sharing (ideas) with a community. Because TEDx are independently organized events, we can really cater to our Camas community, which is really awesome,” Blair said. “(Our speakers) have so many great ideas to share. People will hear some stories they never would’ve otherwise. That’s what’s making us excited – sharing ideas for the sake of sharing them.”

In late January, Chang, Blair and Jiang received approval from TED to put on an officially licensed TEDx event. The trio visited classrooms at Camas High to recruit potential team members, then held an informational meeting, which drew more than 50 attendees, to describe the application process.

From there, the final team of 18 students was chosen and assigned to promotion, curation or logistics committees.

“(In school clubs), like DECA, you’re competing for something. With this, you’re not competing for anything,” said junior Daria Oviatt, a member of the curator committee. “It’s a driven group of students. Everyone who’s in (the group) is doing it because we like hearing the ideas and being part of it.”

The theme of the event is “Seeing The Invisible,” which the group leaders believe works well for a multidisciplinary event.

“We thought (seeing the invisible) was cool because it can encapsulate (a variety of) speakers, from a microbiologist who is seeing invisible structures to somebody that works with the homeless community – an invisible group – to an architect that can see the invisible design of structures around us,” Blair said. “(Our theme) can be kind of abstract and wide-ranging, but generally (it’s about) bringing attention to things we don’t notice in our everyday lives.”

Group members sent out hundreds of emails to potential speakers and received 59 responses. They interviewed 20 finalists, then selected 10 for the event: Mac Potts, a blind piano player from Vancouver; Charlene Williams, an assistant superintendent at the Camas School District; Adam Lewis, the founder and managing director of Street Soccer USA Portland; Divya Amirtharaj, a senior at Westview High School in Beaverton, Oregon; Tim Hackenberg, a professor of psychology at Reed College in Portland; Sarah Ali, a senior at Centennial High School in Gresham, Oregon; David Scholnick, a marine biologist at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon; Bala Krishnamoorthy, an associate professor and program leader of mathematics and statistics at Washington State University Vancouver; Amy Sloan, a volunteer at YouthLine in Portland; and Jim Pressnell, director of These Numbers Have Faces.

“It was super exciting to see that we do have local ideas worth spreading, and there are amazing people in this community,” Chang said. “We talked about how we could curate a list of speakers that were diverse in age and career and background and also have speakers that resonate and represent our themes. It’s been so exciting seeing this idea slowly become a reality.”

Tickets for the event, which will cost $7 for students and $10 for adults, are available exclusively at T-shirts will be available for purchase, and attendees can explore activities, raffles and exhibitions during intermission and before or after the talks, which will be recorded and posted to TEDx’s YouTube channel.

“It’s not like you just sit there and listen to people talk and leave,” Jiang said. “There’s some interactive things. We have merchandise, we have activities that reflect (our theme) and our speakers’ ideas. (We want to) make our event as interesting as possible.”

Their speakers’ topics include animal cognition, the disabled and refugee communities and color-blindness to race.

“These issues tend to be touchy, especially in our current political climate,” Blair said. “This is a great way for people to start a dialogue around that, to hear from people that are directly involved in these situations. Especially in this information age that we’re in, it’s so easy to get caught up in all of the sound bites. Our event is bringing humanity to some of those issues, (looking at) first-hand accounts of what’s going on (and asking), ‘How we can talk about it productively and essentially do things to make the world a better place?'”

Blair said that she hopes that “everyone walks out of the event inspired to pursue some new ideas that that’ve heard.”

“Even if their perspective changes a little bit about a certain topic,” she said, “it’s so worth it for us to be able to create an environment where that can happen.”