On December 6, 2014, International High School students hosted their first-ever TEDxYouth conference. Entirely student- produced, the event featured student and guest speakers alike. Members of the audi- ence praised students for a well run event
full of thoughtful presentations. We asked co-producer
Hannah van Aelstyn to elaborate.
Where did the idea to participate in a TEDx conference
International High School has a fantastic student body,
constantly buzzing with debates, ideas, and original
thought. It’s a unique place in that young people gather
to discuss their passions openly. While our students have
that space at school, our society too frequently doesn’t
carve a space for young people to share our thoughts
with the wider world, or even take the minds of young
people seriously. TEDx Youth was born of this realization
and the desire to craft an event in which young people
could share their passions on a global stage, beyond the
classroom and conversation among students.
To what extent were you able to work autonomously?
The school administration worked with us in the best
way we could have asked for in that they imposed no
separate agenda to our event, did not attempt to take
over the planning themselves, and did not insist on
interfering with any of the plans we made. Instead, they
opened themselves to any help we asked for and made
clear that they were available for anything we might
need. As a result, all of the planning was done entirely
by students, and we were able to work with the administration when necessary to discuss contacts, dates, and
the like. It was liberating, and we were grateful that
they entrusted us with the responsibility of planning the
event; it granted us creative freedom and also forced us
to take on a more mature project than what we are usually asked to do in school.
How did you choose the presenters? Could you discuss
their range of topics?
Our presenters came from a wide range of backgrounds.
What did you learn from your experience?
They had passions they wanted to share with the world,
but had not necessarily had the opportunity to commu-
nicate. Alejandro spoke about his proactive involvement
with the Khan Academy Lab School, and his conviction
that youth already have the relevant skills necessary to
succeed in the adult world; Laura wanted to convey her
ideas about the misconceptions about women in sci-
ence and, as a scientist herself, propose ways to increase
women’s participation; Sherman wanted to share his
own Buddhist-inspired life philosophy that has helped
him succeed in his own life; Eliana wanted to share what
about the study of Classics she found so interesting and
relevant in the modern world; Claire wanted to illumi-
nate us on the torturous practices youth are subjected to
in solitary confinement. Other presenters we sought out
personally, being aware of the unique ideas they had to
share but may not have even been taught were worth
sharing; this was the case for Rosy, who delivered a
delightfully provocative and fresh talk on why she thinks
the Barbie doll should be a tool of feminism instead of
being demonized by the movement.
One of the most surprising things we learned was just
how much bureaucracy and detail orientation it takes
to get anything done. The sheer volume of emails we
wrote, small print we read, and contracts we investigated was at times overwhelming. In doing so, however,
we discovered how much work is done behind the
scenes for almost everything we take for granted, from
events we attend to establishments we frequent. We
also learned how difficult but rewarding it can be to
work with many people with varying backgrounds and
expectations of cultural norms; communication was at
times difficult, but in working to try to accommodate the
needs of all, our eyes were opened to the dignity in the
perspectives of others we may not have understood or
given thought to before. The same is true for the content
of the presentations.
What would you tell students interested in producing/
presenting in future TEDx conferences?
Besides doing it, I would tell students to have patience,
and do the best they can possibly do. Being responsible
for creating an effective event or presentation is more
work than people often realize, especially before they
begin the process. It can be easy to do the bare minimum, but you have the capacity to create something
memorable and amazing, so seize that. Some of the best
advice we got at the beginning of this process was that
the value of a good event is in the details. For presenters,
the eye-contact with the audience is what makes a good
talk. For producers, it’s the attention to the attendee’s experience and the personal touch in communication, the
publicizing through word of mouth, and attention to the
resources you already have. Don’t ignore these details.
Start with huge ambition and tailor it down; it’ll leave
you with a more successful end-product.
Whatever future students do with the production, we
know it will be unique to them. The personality of the
speakers and producers will come through in the most
unexpected ways. It’s all part of what makes the spirit of
the event so exciting!