TEDxUF zeroes in on inspiring passion
Published: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 8:54 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 8:54 p.m.
Jose Bigio eagerly waited in line to enter the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, wondering what awaited him inside this year's TEDxUF.
"I really don't know what to expect, but I hope it's worthwhile," said Bigio, a 20-year-old University of Florida economics student.
What awaited Bigio and some 2,000 others who attended TEDxUF could be reduced to one word: passion.
In fact, "Pursuing Passion" was the theme of this year's event, which showcased nine speakers from a wide range of fields and backgrounds as they shared their thoughts, knowledge and insight in hopes of inspiring and igniting passion.
"Each speaker is opening the conversation to get you thinking, to start a conversation so you leave TED inspired," said 21-year-old Alexa Carlin, a TEDxUF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation ambassador.
TEDxUF is an independent program that branches out from the original TED, a nonprofit organization dedicated to "ideas worth spreading."
The idea for TED started as a conference in California in 1984 with the purpose of bringing people together from three areas: technology, entertainment and design.
This year's event began with UF's co-ed a capella group No Southern Accent providing some initial inspiration. The crowd cheered at the end of the group's rendition of "All These Things That I've Done" by The Killers.
Among the long line of speakers, Gainesville-based Parisleaf's CEO Chad Paris talked about authenticity and how for a long time he couldn't find who he truly was.
He explained his journey and his decision to find passion in his life after some dark days that led him to experiment with drugs and alcohol. He ended his speech with a question for the audience
"Who are you?" Paris asked.
The conference was divided into two speaker sessions with a lunch break in between. The last speaker of the first session, Rebecca Brown, was particularly moving and received a standing ovation.
Brown is the founder and director of Streetlight, a program that connects UF students in the health care and medical fields with adolescents who are living with a chronic or terminal illness.
Brown emphasized that Streetlight is about friendship and she credits the teenagers she has worked with in helping her find meaning in life.
Brown told touching stories of the young people she has encountered in more than 30 years of experiences. The auditorium fell so silent that you could hear the sniffling of attendees as they dabbed tears in their eyes.
Michael Misquith, an 18-year-old psychology student at UF, said he was moved and inspired by Brown's stories.
"I was crying my head off," Misquith said.
Other speakers included Barry Byrne, a doctor who discussed the use of gene therapy in curing rare diseases, and Ken Staab, whose passion was ignited when his family was blindsided by his nephew's diagnosis of dystonia, a rare disease characterized by involuntary muscle movements.
Staab now raises money through the foundation in his nephew's name, Tyler's Hope for a Dystonia Cure, which has funded research at Shands at UF. He reminded the audience to be fearless in all they do and enjoy their passions.
The conference included a student speaker, Cary Putnal, who explored the science of how certain microorganisms in waste can be turned into visible light. Putnal finds passion in merging biology and technology in order to become more sustainable.
In the second speaker session, August Shitama used sign language to communicate his love of reading as a voice recording of what he was signing filled the auditorium space. He explained how reading has helped him find a voice even though he can't speak.
"Reading isn't a task, it's my life for me," Shitama said.
The rest of the afternoon put on display other speakers' passions, including those of writer Anna Olcese and Stephan Athan, an engineer who seeks to expand career knowledge at an early age.
The purpose of TEDxUF in "pursuing passion" was also evident in speakers such as Phoebe Cade Miles, founder of the Cade Museum, who spoke of using creativity and the arts in education in order to enhance students' math and science abilities.
Buchholz High School student Minjia Zhong, 16, loved the conference and was intrigued by all the scientific topics discussed in relation to passion.
"I think it's also been really interesting to see how the speakers came upon their lives' passion," Zhong said.