Students Attend “Re:build” TEDxYouth Event

Nivrithi Kuttuva, Dreamcatcher Poetry & Prose Editor

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  • Akshata Badrayani ’21 and Advika Rajesh ’21 pose in front of the TEDxYouth @ Austin backdrop after returning from the xLabs. Many students attended the event to earn extra credit for their Spanish class.

  • Students from the Nataraja Indian Dance Demonstration pose by their xLab in traditional Bharatnatyam costumes, getting ready to dance. Bharatnatyam is an Indian dance form that incorporates facial expressions and gestures to convey Hindu mythologies.

  • Students collected craft materials to build something creative and out of the ordinary. Austin Creative Reuse encouraged attendees to use materials in unconventional ways.

  • As part of Austin Creative Reuse’s xLab, students used various art supplies such as fabric, beads, and hot glue guns to make crafts. They were allowed to make anything they wanted to and could even take materials home to continue them.

  • Attendees experienced brain wave detectors at an interactive Neuroscience Demo. This xLab was held by the UT Engineering department.

  • Many students worked together to solve encoded messages in the Novel Escape Puzzles’ xLab. They were motivated to win candy after they solved it.

  • Students from different schools played Jenga, taking turns to build the highest tower possible. This game was held on the terrace as part of the Building Assemblage Structures xLab.

  • Westlake High School’s jazz band, “Down To Funk,” entertained the crowd with their rendition of popular songs. They began performing live in 2019 but have been playing with other funk groups for a couple of years.

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On Sunday, February 9, Residents of Austin gathered in the Long Center to experience TEDxYouth Austin, an annual event held to promote change, innovation, and new perspectives for today’s youth regarding relevant global issues. Growing over the past 7 years, this event has featured motivational speakers and dynamic xLabs to inspire students to step up and lead the future. Every aspect of the event, from the theme to the decorations to the program of speakers was planned by a team of youth leaders under the guidance of adult mentors. 

An immense amount of effort was put into choosing the 11 speakers and mapping out the 24 xLabs, which are interactive activities facilitated by various local organizations around Austin. Since last year’s theme, ‘Outspoken,’ focused on speaking about the issues that matter, organizers decided that this year’s theme would be ‘Re:build’, a message of taking action on those issues. Over the past year, these youth leaders have been meeting regularly to organize every detail of the event so that everything could run smoothly. 

“We started meeting in May of last year and every two weeks we had a meeting to organize everything,” Samia Arni ‘20, one of the event’s outreach organizers, said. “Today I’ve been here since 9 a.m. packing everything and making sure that everything is going in order – it has been a lot [of work], but I think it’s worth it.”

The event began with an array of xLabs for attendees to experience. Fostering creativity, art, innovation, and technology, there was a wide variety of activities to cater to all unique interests – from robot driving to escape rooms, and from sculpture assembling to an Indian dance demonstration. In addition, some Westwood students promoted their own organizations that they are a part of outside of school through xLabs. 

“Generation Serve is a nonprofit in Austin [for teens] to form activities raising awareness while learning soft skills to build their leadership,” Sumedha Jayagopal ‘22 said. “It feels really good [to partake in the TEDxYouth event] because we are meeting all these new people from different organizations, and hopefully we will get a lot more teen leads to come and apply.”

Another popular xLab was Building Assemblage Sculptures, where nonprofit conservation organization Austin Creative Reuse allowed attendees to create art from donated craft materials. Their goal is to keep trash out of the landfills, so they operate a thrift store where they resell any materials that are donated to them and encourage people to use them not for their intended purposes, but for other reasons, to make something creative.

Additionally, many attendees were drawn to the Novel Escape Puzzles xLab, which is a book-themed escape room in Austin that opened a couple of months ago. They spread out puzzles with encoded text messages on tables for students to solve.

“We just brought some puzzles and there’s a box that [students are] trying to open to get candy,” Novel Escape Puzzles employee Todd Gelson said. “This is our 3rd year doing this [xLab], so it has been really fun to have students come over and watch them get excited about solving puzzles.” 

After navigating through the many xLabs, students gathered in the auditorium to listen to the dynamic TED talks. There were 11 performers, including TED talks, dances, and musical performances.

The first speaker was Gen Goldbeck, who shed insight onto building artificial intelligence and algorithms to monitor Internet users’ online privacy. She was followed by Kathy Johnson, who advocated for restoring the soil of the United States in farmland and in backyards through the use of organic fertilizers. Later, a jazz band from Westlake High School, named “Down to Funk,” left the audience grooving to the tunes that they synthesized through their renditions of popular songs. 

“The TED talk about soil [was most interesting] because [the speaker] said that there are microbes in the soil that can prevent global warming, but we are destroying them, so we need to replenish them through the use of manure,” Samer Salman ‘21 said.

Following the performance, Shawna Schuch, a certified speaking professional, expressed the idea that leadership using traits intrinsic to pets can help rebuild society. Next, Molly Marooney and Heath Speakman from SPRATX shared the importance of street art, followed by Imaad Khan, a poet who spoke about his empowering slam poetry competitions. 

After the intermission, an R&B band, Soultree Collective, captivated the audience with their performance. They were followed by Nithya Gillipelli, a civic engagement and social justice advocate who spoke about empowering others through education. Next was Ciaran O’Connor, who advocated for political depolarization. A dance performance by Caroline Cullers, Regina Navarro, and Francesca Rodriguez then entertained the crowd. Lastly, entrepreneur Ben Rubenstein illustrated his experience in founding data-driven organizations.

“Learning about different perspectives is the coolest part of this event, because a lot of the people that come here are really inspiring so it’s nice meeting them,” Vani Shah ‘20 said

From xLabs to engaging TED talks, the TEDxYouth event left all attendees with a better idea of how to tackle various world issues and implement new perspectives into their lives so that they can “Re:build” the world.