On Friday, 18 speakers, ranging from Notre Dame undergraduates to faculty to community members, delivered 12-minute presentations for the 2015 TEDxUND.
The event took place at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, and presentations were based on the theme, “What if …” Brian Snyder, Notre Dame class of 2002, was the event’s emcee.
The videos of all the speeches will be available at tedx2015.nd.edu in the coming weeks.
Prashan De Visser: “Counter Radicalisation of Youth”
De Visser is a graduate student at the Kroc International Institute for Peace Studies and the president and founder of Sri Lanka Unites, a youth movement dedicated to preventing the radicalization of Sri Lankan youths. Sri Lanka Unites has also sprouted Congo Unites and Global Unites. Drawing on his own childhood in Sri Lanka, De Visser explained how radicals target young people in order to pursue their agendas.
“Our nation was divided along ethnic lines,” he said. “Our people ended up in a brutal civil war for 28 years, and we were born into that. As a young child, I didn’t understand all the complexities of the war, but I did understand that a minority of extremists on either side of the ethnic divide manipulated and brainwashed young people to believe that violence was the only way to protect and preserve their ethnic identity and their rights.”
De Visser said the best way to end these conflicts is to expose young people to the opposite side so that they can see it is not so different. He said programs such as Sri Lanka United provide counters to radicalization.
Susan Jackson: “Creating Collaboration From Contentiousness”
As the president of the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) — a global partnership among scientists, tuna processors and environmental nonprofits to keep tuna stocks sustainable and preserve conservation — Jackson has experience dealing with people whose interests conflict. She said the model that allowed ISSF to succeed is bigger than the niche it currently occupies.
Jackson explained the methods that work best for “working with your antagonists” and said these apply to students at Notre Dame.
“By finding these partnerships and looking for opportunities to create collaboration, you can still always find a way to bring your personal values into your work, no matter where you end up,” she said.
Julia McKenna: “If Hands Were Just for Holding … And Other ‘What If’s’ From a Teenage Poet”
An eighth-grader at Good Shepherd Montessori School, McKenna was the youngest speaker at the talks. She performed a piece 0f spoken-word poetry, in which she asked a series of ‘What if?’ questions.
“What if life was fair?” McKenna said. “What if no one could use cheat cards like nationality, gender or class? What if instead of putting life on a teeter-totter, where one end is always up, and one end is always down, we put life on a rock-climbing wall? Because then there is nowhere to go but up.”
The questions reflected McKenna’s desire for a brighter future.
“The thing is, we need to dream together,” she said. “So what if everyone did big things instead of pursuing small realities?”
Benjamin Sunderlin: “What if We Remade the Liberty Bell?”
Sunderlin, a Master of Fine Arts student at Notre Dame, said the Liberty Bell serves as a metaphor for United States’ ideals of freedom.
“We hold our freedom as forward, as a defining characteristic of who we are,” Sunderlin said. “We believe in the American dream, not one to think it could quickly turn into a nightmare. We constantly seek to evolve and to grow, to better the lives of people who are oppressed, underprivileged and prejudiced.”
He said that, as with the bell, the United States’ sense of freedom and justice has been cracked, but people refuse to fix it.
“Remaking icons shouldn’t be a dream that exists outside of our grasp, reason or interest,” he said. “Why shouldn’t we remake it?”
Jackson Jhin: “Transforming Noise Into Music”
With his synthesizer on stage, Jhin, a Notre Dame sophomore, demonstrated the elements that differentiate between noise and music. He said predictability and variability are the most important aspects in determining what music is most pleasing to the ear.
“Music is fundamentally the balance between predictability and variability,” he said. “This is important because you need your music to be intriguing. You want it to be interesting. But at the same time, if it’s not predictable, if you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen next, it’s too chaotic.”
Deandra Cadet & Edithstein Cho: “Center Your Story: Claim Your Identity”
Cadet, a senior, and Cho, a 2014 graduate, spoke of the importance of “centering” oneself, telling one’s own stories.
They began by telling a story of four blind men observing different parts of the same elephant and not realizing it was the same animal until someone who could see told them. They said the elephant never got to tell its own story, and we often put ourselves in the same position.
“Tell your stories from your perspective, rather than regurgitating or reacting from the stories of you told by others,” Cho said.
Cadet and Cho also spoke about Show Some Skin, an annual production at Notre Dame that encourages students to tell their own stories and to define their identities.
“We attempt to reconcile our perceptions of ourselves with the perceptions of others,” Cadet said.
Cadet said people should instead focus on their perceptions of themselves.
Fr. David Link: “An Escape Strategy For the War On Crime: Healing the Criminal”
“The simple fact of the matter, my friends, is that most people in prison did not fall into the cracks; they were born into cracks,” Link said.
Link, a former dean of the Notre Dame Law School who became a Catholic priest, said his experience as a prison chaplain convinced him that prisoners could and should be healed.
“Before I got involved in prison ministry, I thought that all prisoners were alike, that these were bad people who were given to a life of crime and to social deviance,” he said. “I needed a wake up call.”
Link said the only way to truly beat the war on crime is to focus on healing rather than punishment.
“There is significance in standing by our brothers and sisters who society regard as the least and the last, because we know them as the lost and the lonely,” he said.
Pete Freeman: “What If ‘Thank You’ Were More Than Two Trite Words?”
Freeman, a freshman, said our culture says “Thank you” without really meaning it. He said the average American says “Thank you” over 5,000 times a year.
“Today, we’ve become habitual about throwing around the phrase ‘Thank you,’ and when others say it to us, we hardly say ‘You’re welcome,’” he said.
Freeman said sincerely thanking someone has numerous health benefits, including lowered blood pressure.
Freeman is the founder of Thank Bank, an organization that finds creative ways to say “Thank you.” He said one of the biggest projects they’ve taken on was a giant mural for a “community matriarch” from his hometown, a 103-year-old woman who had been volunteering for over 50 years.
“We have a problem, and [the] solution starts with a total overhaul of how we look at ‘Thank you,’” he said.
Katie Mattie: “What If Iron Man Was a Woman?”
“This talk isn’t just about what if Iron Man was a woman,” Mattie said. “It’s a, what if we created a society where every kid felt confident in exactly who they are?”
Mattie, a 2014 Notre Dame graduate, said there is a lack of strong female characters in big-budget films, despite research showing that films starring women do well at the box office. The rigid representations of male and female roles in films also contribute to the strict societal perceptions of gender roles, Mattie said.
Mattie said she hopes people will develop a healthier perspective towards gender.
“I want the work I do today to lay a foundation, that when I do have kids, they can embark on their own hero’s journey and become whoever it is they’re meant to be without shame,” she said.
Alesha Seroczynski: “What if Juvenile Offenders Met Aristotle?”
Seroczynski, a research associate at Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives and director of Reading for Life, said reflection on Aristotle’s views of virtue can change the lives of at-risk youth.
Seroczynski said the Reading for Life program provides an opportunity for nonviolent juvenile offenders to read and discuss relevant books in small groups. She said 97 percent of youth who participated in the initiative have not been prosecuted for a repeat offense.
“There is a boy out there who needs the very best you can give him,” Seroczynski said. “A girl who is hungry for truth. The question really isn’t what if they need Aristotle. The question is, what if you take Aristotle to them?”
Garrett Blad and Brittany Ebeling: “What If … We Got Uncomfortable?”
In a talk that incorporated personal experience and spoken-word poetry, Blad, a senior, and Ebeling, a sophomore, said shared discomfort can be a way to empathize with others and even address social and political problems.
“If we talked about politics in the same way that we experience pit-in-the-stomach human connections, the dialogue could never look the same,” Ebeling said.
Blad said exercises in discomfort can be “an exercise in empathy.”
“Entering into an uncomfortable and vulnerable space, a space where layers of insecurity can be pulled away, seems to have the potential to broaden our understanding of humanity,” he said.
Paul Blaschko: “Learning How to Read Minds”
“The more I study narratives, the more I’m convinced that reading minds and reading books aren’t all that different,” Blashcko said.
A graduate student of philosophy at Notre Dame, Blaschko said the neural mirroring that takes place when delving into the world of a novel allows the reader to understand the actions and motivations of characters, and in a sense, grants the reader the power to read minds.
“Novels can allow us to experience the world from someone else’s point of view,” he said. “By challenging ourselves to inhabit the perspectives of those who have lived very different lives than we have, we can empathize and understand people even if we don’t agree with them,” he said.
Mark Doerries: “What If Children Were More Than Cute?”
Doerries, a postdoctoral fellow and conductor of the Notre Dame Children’s Choir, said despite their small stature, children deserve to be taken seriously.
“Are children cute?” Doerries asked. “They’re so much more than that.”
Through his role as conductor, Doerries said he hopes to provide the opportunity for children to be heard.
“I’m proud to be their nurturer and their guide on this adventure,” he said. “These are our future CEOs, athletes, and scholars. They are everything I want to be when I grow up.”
Thirty-five members of the Notre Dame Children’s Choir also performed a short concert.
Grace Mariette Agolia: “Deaf Child Area: Reconciling the Worlds of Silence and Sound”
Agolia, a sophomore, said that, along with the physical challenges of being a deaf, cochlear-implant user, there are both “beautiful and terrible” aspects of dealing with physical silence.
“For a deaf person like me, silence is an experience all its own,” Agolia said. “Because I partake of both worlds, my experience of silence informs the world of sound. I have learned to integrate my experiences of both silence and sound, and that has led me to break the barrier.”
Agolia said an equally important challenge lies in addressing the societal marginalization of the deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
“Even though I have now overcome many of my challenges, and society has made progress in accommodating the needs of disabled people, there is still much work to be done,” she said. “We too need to integrate silence and sound in the society at large.”
Dustin Stoltz: “Trust is Overrated, Or: How We Play Nice With Strangers”
Dustin Stoltz, a Ph.D. student in sociology, said people intuitively have faith in others even without certitude of their intentions.
“Faith in humankind is the natural attitude,” Stoltz said. “And without it, what we call society would be impossible.”
Stoltz said this faith that people exhibit in everyday relationships reflects the natural tendency to cooperate with others.
“Sometimes, when we have no good reasons to trust, we will still cooperate and are generous and kind because we want to make sense out of this world, but also because we want to create a world that we want.
“If we can work with enemies and hug perfect strangers, we should be optimistic. Because what this means is trust is overrated. Because meaning-making is the foundation of faith.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend): “What If A City Has To Rethink Its Past To Understand Its Future?”
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, said the city’s economic future lies in tapping into existing sources of innovations, as opposed to starting from scratch.
“I began to believe that our city’s genius is through taking what we already have, seeing new value, refashioning that thing and turning it into something that makes sense,” he said. “You ought to have locally sourced, home-grown, organic innovation.”
In the same way the iPhone transformed the existing cellphone, Buttigieg said South Bend has the potential to become a hub for high-tech industry using existing infrastructure and resources.
“Building on what we already got, but imagining sources of value that were inconceivable just a few years ago, we have a chance of becoming not the next Silicon Valley,” he said. “… That’s how we become the next South Bend.”