Maya Baumeister speaks to a crowd at the 2015 TEDxUGA Student Idea Competition.

“The more you enter into it, the more you take out,” exclaimed the initial announcements at TEDxUGA.

TEDx, which is independently organized, is a variation of TED. TED (technology, entertainment, design) is a global conference with the motto “Ideas worth spreading," and it invites people of all walks of life to communicate beliefs, innovations and enlightenment.

For the third year in a row, TEDxUGA asked sixteen UGA presenters (students, faculty and alumni) to share their knowledge in hopes of starting new conversations in the Athens’ community.

The annual event was held Friday, March 27 at Tate Grand Hall. A mix of volunteers and students diligently prepare all year to host the conference. Unknown too many, UGA provides a class that allows students to help presenters and facilitate TEDxUGA, called NMIX4200.

“I worked for four presenters to prepare for the event,” said Hannah Proctor, a sophomore international affairs major from Manhattan Beach, California.

All of the hard work by students and volunteers was fully appreciated, and the sold out show completely embodied the TED philosophy. Even the audience was morphed from a group of isolated individuals to a cohesive think-tank. Ingeniously, everyone had too switch seats three times with a stranger making it impossible to not engage with one another.

No two speakers were alike and the presenters shared a varied range subjects; some being new approaches to creativity, the necessity of space exploration and the importance of observing animal behavior.

All of the speeches proved enlightening and succeeded in making the audience think twice about the way they perceive certain subjects. Out of the lot, the most well received “Ted Talks” were delivered by PhD student Stephanie Jones, associate professor John Drake and alumni Lemuel “Life” LaRoche.

Stephanie Jones provided an anecdote about struggling with her fear of children losing innocence after finding an explicit book in her classroom. She was upset until one student boldly admitted the books were intriguing because, “Mrs. Jones this is real life.”

“My students were ready to talk about real life, I wasn’t,” confessed Jones.

She realized that kids should read what they want to read, but it’s critical that they speak with adults about the feelings and fears they encounter with adult literature.

Like Jones, John Drake is a teacher as well, but instead of children he works with infectious diseases in the Odum School of Ecology. Drake warned of the rise of infectious disease and brought to surface the concept of preemptively stopping illness before it can spread.

“If we could measure emerging infectious disease, we can catch it before it rolls to endemic,” Drake said.

Although a complicated subject, he boiled the concept down to being like a game of Jenga in that the system fluctuates before it collapses. Creatively, he drew the audience closer by simultaneously presenting and playing a game of Jenga with his young daughter (who innocently stole the crowd’s heart and actually beat her dad on stage).

The last and most well received presentation came from UGA alumni Lemuel “Life” LaRoche. After receiving his degree in social work, he set out on a journey to answer the questions “How do we inspire kids who have been told they are intellectual in-superior and how do we reprogram?”

He found his answers oddly enough in the timeless game of chess, and started hosting “Pizza and Chess” events for underprivileged youth. While playing chess, he explains to kids how the Knight is like military men who should be respected, the Bishop represents spirituality and inner peace, the Queen embodies the power of women in the world and the King is as pivotal as a father figure.

“I’m no prophet, my job is to make windows where there was walls,” said LaRoche, quoting the famous words of Michel Foucault.

LaRoche ended his speech by reading a poem that called to action the Athens community to acknowledge the significance of molding positive behavior into our next generation. The audience erupted into applause, many cried and all felt inspired.

The word inspiration in fact summarizes the whole mood of TEDxUGA, and just as predicted “the more you enter into it, the more you take out.”​

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