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This Saturday, Oct. 18, Rackspace held the wildly popular fifth annual TEDxSanAntonio conference to a packed house.
TEDx talks are worldwide, independently-organized conferences where speakers from various careers and walks of life give motivational, inspirational, and awe-inspiring speeches to generate ideas and change amongst communities.
The event began promptly at 10 a.m. with breakfast, coffee, and mingling beforehand. Many of the speakers attended the two breaks during the conference, enabling attendees to socialize with, thank and have one-on-one time with their favorite speakers.
“It’s incredible to see so many people here of all ages and backgrounds,” said attendee Shara Kenworthey, a journalist for a worldwide publication in Iraq. “It was a pleasant surprise to see some of the people I started getting to know this morning end up being an incredible part of this experience.”
Part one of the conference featured speakers passionate about stories and social change.
The first speaker, and one of the standouts, was Irish-born Baylor professor Sarah-Jane “SJ” Murray. Murray’s talk urged storytelling in classrooms and throughout society in general. The Emmy nominee encouraged storytelling to keep civilization thriving, and suggested that our minds process stories faster than any other learning technique. Murray closed her talk with a simple question: What will your story tell?
When meeting a few fans, she beamed. “It’s amazing just to see other writers, and how storytelling really does affect us all.”
Murray did not hesitate to mingle, laugh, and share her experiences as a documentary screenwriter.
Another standout of part one was Kori Ashton, an artist and co-owner of WebTegrity. Throughout her talk, she slowly finger-painted the edges of a large canvas. She chose colors that represent light and dark parts of her talk, which began with exaggerated storytelling and ended with an inspirational family tale of hope and the belief that anything is possible despite the obstacles. The pale blue steel letters, surrounded by a collection of yellow, orange, dark brown, and a pale blue hand-painted border, completed the words of her painting, “Inspire.”
The Twig Book Shop featured books for sale selected by the speakers, and booths sported T-shirts and tote bags. Lunch was provided by food trucks and encouraged attendees to generate ideas with those around them.
Emcees Molly Cox and Victor Landa, both members of the media themselves, kept the conference alive and stimulated during the opening and introductions of speakers. Cox even initiated a Michael Jackson dance break after lunch to keep the momentum going throughout the conference. Phone usage, especially with Twitter, was encouraged.
Part two of the conference featured social issues such as education and gender identity. Trevor Muir and Eric Dorsa, also known as Fonda Koxx, received standing ovations from their audience.
Muir is an educator at Kent Innovation High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and his speech provided an uplifting and alternative way of educating students, especially those with disabilities or issues at home. Kent High School encourages hands-on projects and collaboration rather than papers and the ‘factory worker’ style of teaching prevalent in the majority of schools.
Dorsa came onstage in full drag. His talk reflected a childhood desire to play ‘dress-up,’ and how his extremely conservative family would not accept him. He focused on societal masks and the roles we take on to fit in with our families or to satisfy what is expected of us. By the end of the talk, he removed the wig, the dress, and the makeup, so that all that stood before the audience was him, without his mask.
Members of the audience offered hugs and immense congratulations as Dorsa stood, make-up streaked and beaming in only his boxers.
Part three of the TEDxSA talk honed in on local issues within our beloved San Antonio. Topics ranged from diabetes to innovative urban farming. Poet Laureate Laurie Ann Guerrero, a native of San Antonio, powerfully explored what she has learned in our city through the use of spoken word poetry. Her lessons were quick but striking, heartfelt, and powerful.
Another standout key speaker was Suzanne B. Scott, general manager of the San Antonio River Authority. Scott spoke from the perspective of the river to provide a lighthearted yet informative talk on how the city needs to be more focused on maintaining and restoring the San Antonio River as a natural water resource instead of just as a tourist destination. Scott poked fun at our overt focus on the Edwards Aquifer compared to the San Antonio River.
By the end of the TEDxSA talk, ideas were shared and a momentum grew as an incredible panel of speakers from different career paths and with different objectives shed light on subjects nary thought about in our daily life. As the crowd stood up and moved toward the exit, it was clear a shift had occurred.
Attendant Kenworthey commented on the overall feeling after the TEDxSA conference: “If I had met any of these speakers randomly or in the street, I probably would move on with my day. However, sitting in a room with hundreds of other people speaking about their careers and ideas at the same time makes me feel more responsible for wanting to make the change. As a human we communicate, and interact with each other. By the end of the TED talk we are all in this together.”
Correction: Due to a reporting error, Eric Dorsa was misidentified as Eric Dorsey in an earlier version of this story. The Rivard Report apologizes.
*Set/featured image: TEDx attendees peruse the TEDxSA2014 book selection provided by the Twig Book Shop. Photo by Jackie Calvert.