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Students Captivate Audience at Masters' First TEDx Event
Posted 07/20/2017 09:00AM

Ten Upper School students gave powerful and engaging talks on an array of topics at TEDxTheMastersSchool, The Masters School’s first TEDx event, on May 20 at the Fonseca Center. 

Families and friends filled the Experimental Theater to hear the students’ presentations, which addressed timely social, political, economic and environmental issues. Other community members, including alumnae/i attending Reunion 2017, watched the event on video monitors in the Sharon Room and the Davis Café, or watched a livestream of the program.

The students’ weeks of preparation for the event were evident as they delivered their presentations with poise, confidence and touches of humor. 

In a talk entitled “Family Secrets,” senior Tulay Akoglu argued that culture has been used as an excuse for domestic violence and secrecy about its existence within families. Tulay, a Japanese-Turkish American, said that about half of all women in Turkey have been victims of domestic violence, and noted that domestic abuse is prevalent in the United States as well.

“Domestic violence is not exclusive to a few minorities,” but instead cuts across all cultures, socioeconomic groups, and racial and national identities, she said. Noting that there is a tendency to excuse such bad behavior by attributing it to a particular culture’s values, Tulay added, “Once those values are harmful, we must step in.” 

In his “Diversity in the Corporate World” presentation, junior Ahnaf Taha spoke of the small percentage of women and minorities employed by technological companies. White people constitute over 71 percent of the technology industry’s leadership ranks, he said.

Ahnaf, an avid computer coder, said that at a recent hackathon, he had the opportunity to work with young people from completely different backgrounds. The participants included a group of high school-age girls. That kind of diversity is sorely needed in the technology industry, said Ahnaf.

Sophomore Sophia Brousset also touched on issues of gender in a talk entitled “Educating Girls: a Global Perspective.”

Describing herself as a child of Peruvian immigrants, Sophia cited studies showing that women in developing countries who are educated are less likely to have child marriages, die during childbirth or develop AIDS. One solution, she said, is to tighten child marriage laws in countries where such marriages are allowed.

“Give a girl an education and she can change society, and possibly even the world,” Sophia concluded. 

In “Peace and Our Relationship with the Earth,” senior Jared Foxhall described his experiences as a home-schooled child who benefited from a nature-centered curriculum that included building gardens and composting. He cited a study that found that children as young as five years old who engaged with nature had significant reductions in stress and anxiety.  

Exposure to nature-centered learning at a young age, Jared said, “creates empathy for the Earth that extends to wanting to ensure its survival.” 

In a talk entitled “Context, Bigotry and Privilege,” junior Amanda Taylor spoke about growing up in Jamaica, where “being of mixed race or brown-skinned” engendered certain societal advantages. But when she moved to the United States, she found that “as a brown girl in America, privilege was not part of my experience." 

Referring to the use of skin lightening products by some people of color, Amanda observed, “Clearly there is an adjustment of self to fit a perceived standard.” It is a standard, she said, that results in routine discrimination against those with dark skin.

Sophomore Julia Mathas, whose talk was entitled “Embracing the Façade,” focused on the positive effects of constructing personae, especially during the teen years. Relating her own journey toward “creating the person you want to be,” Julia observed, “My character helped me find myself.”

Also speaking from personal experience, freshman Jonas Kolker explored the use of cognitive behavioral therapy and exposure techniques to treat both children and adults who suffer from debilitating fear and anxiety. Noting that five out of five people experience anxiety to some degree, he called for more widespread use of these strategies.

Junior Scout O'Donnell, who spent most of her childhood in Vermont, laced her “Parenting Styles” talk with anecdotes about her upbringing. Her parents, she said, taught her to be “a resilient human being with an innate sense of wonder and curiosity about myself.”

Her father taught her to fish so that she would learn patience, Scout recalled. She also learned “to accept my sadness” when she didn’t catch any fish after long hours of trying.

In this “helicopter parenting era,” Scout said, it’s important that parents recognize that “downtime can be productive and it’s impossible to have complete control over life.”  

Senior Samantha “Sam” Coppola’s presentation, “Dyslexia and Privilege,” explored the services, particularly for learning-different individuals, that are based on economic circumstances. Sam, who was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age, said, “Teachers, especially of young children, need to know the signs of dyslexia.”

To improve dyslexia services so that they are available to families at all income levels, she said, “We need to rearrange the school system – not put money into it.”

In her presentation, “Is History in the Eyes of the Beholder?” senior Kree Zhang investigated the ways that teenagers use coded language and techniques to circumvent governmental and parental censorship.

Having studied in the U.S. for the past four years, Kree said that she now freely engages in social activism offline and online, and has learned the importance of political education and different historical perspectives in understanding a country's past. She believes that only in this way can the younger generation develop a well-informed, politically engaged sense of self.

TEDxTheMastersSchool was an independently organized event, licensed by TED. Launched in 2009, TEDx is a program of locally organized events that bring the community together to share a TED-like experience.

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