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Meeting the Future at Sunday’s TEDxAmericanRiviera

Local youth get their chance for an 'Unthinkable' experience, and possible inspiration for career and life choices

Mark Sylvester and Kymberlee Weil are organizers of the 2012 TEDx American Riviera, which gets under way Sunday at Bacara Resort & Spa.

Mark Sylvester and Kymberlee Weil are organizers of the 2012 TEDx American Riviera, which gets under way Sunday at Bacara Resort & Spa.  (Carolyn Newstrom photo)

By Nancy Shobe, Noozhawk Contributing Writer | @shobebiz |

“Although we all have different life experiences, everyone was once 16,” Mark Sylvester, co-producer of TEDx American Riviera, said when asked why he chose to include teenagers in Sunday’s TEDxAmericanRiviera event at Bacara Resort & Spa. “This year’s title, The Unthinkable, is perfect for teens in that it may help them think the unthinkable, that they can be the ones who have the idea that changes everything ...

“How many of us were even thinking about our passions and what we would spend our lives doing at 16? I know I wasn’t,” he added with a laugh.

Since 1984, the nonprofit TED has dedicated itself to the concept of Ideas Worth Spreading.

“TED is the perfect example of how one idea can grow,” said Sylvester. “One person invented the TED idea, shared it; a team of people became involved with it, and, then, it became a movement. TED has changed lives, even the world. I want the teens to have this one day where they really consider, ‘Why can’t I be the person who has an idea like that?’”

The larger TED from which TEDx was derived brings together people from three worlds — Technology, Entertainment and Design. It hosts a variety of events, including two annual conferences in the United States, a global conference, award-winning TEDTalks on video, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the TED Fellows, the annual TED Prize and TEDx programs.

TEDx was designed to give local communities and organizations the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.

“Today’s teens are going to be tomorrow’s mayors, councilmen and even the president,” Sylvester said. “I want the kids to believe that they can create ideas that could change the world.”

Sylvester’s desire to include teens resulted in a conversation with Dave Cash, superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Cash sent out requests to Santa Barbara’s three high school principals, asking them to nominate two teen representatives from each of their schools. The following students were chosen:

Santa Barbara High School — Ivette Gil and Zachary Parent

When asked about the students, Santa Barbara High Principal John Becchio said, “Zachary Parent is one of the most spirited students I have ever known. He is always inquisitive and excited about encountering new endeavors that will expand his capacity as a person. And, Ivette Gil is a true leader who demonstrates her passion for life on a daily basis. She takes interest in everything that is happening on campus and also seeks to expand her experiences by being involved in many community events.”

San Marcos High School — Jordan Lund and Alex Smith

“Jordan Lund, CEO of Kids Helping Kids, and Alex Smith, director of advancement, were both chosen to attend TEDx because of their entrepreneurial spirit and leadership abilities,” said Ed Behrens, San Marcos High’s principal. “As current seniors, they are running their own 501(c)3 nonprofit enterprises made up of 107 Advanced Placement Economic students. The difference they are making extends from the classroom to the community.”

Dos Pueblos High School — Agnetta Cleland and Kavi Suri

Dos Pueblos High teacher/adviser John Dent said of Suri, “Kavi Suri is a brilliant, multitalented, driven, focused, fun, young woman who is going to change the world. Kavi has continually demonstrated maturity and ability well beyond her years ... she is part of the ASB Leadership program and the DPEA robotics teams ... Kavi Suri will truly make the ‘Unthinkable’ become a reality.”

Assistant Principal Bill Woodward and Cleland’s adviser said, “In addition to achieving a perfect SAT score, Agnetta was voted best expert witness in Santa Barbara County’s Mock Trial last year. She has a brilliantly analytic mind, is a top engineering student, and is a true scholar.”

Adding to the mighty team of teen attendees, Santa Barbara Middle School is also sending students Mason Dochterman and Wilson Sherman from its Teen Press program to conduct on-site interviews with the speakers, ambassadors and attendees. (Sherman’s mom, Tami, is a key volunteer with TEDx.) To prepare for their “big day,” Dochterman and Sherman are conducting research by watching TED talks on the Internet and researching the speakers.

When asked what their own TED talk would be about, Dochterman eagerly responded that his would be about professional tennis and how it takes years and years of practice to get what you want and how one must learn to live with the lows as well as the highs. Sherman responded just as enthusiastically about a different topic: “I would address the parents and tell them how important it is for their kids to have access to creativity so they can develop their minds.”

Sylvester credits the late Mike deGruy for this year’s addition.

“This idea of focusing on local youth was inspired in an unthinkable way by fellow TEDster, Mike deGruy,“ he said.

DeGruy, a Santa Barbara-based underwater filmmaker, speaker, emcee and interviewer, tragically died in a helicopter crash in February while on a film assignment in Australia.

“I knew Mike for many, many years,” Sylvester said. “When we put on our first TEDx, we thought we really need Mike speaking on stage. Three weeks before the conference, he came back from the Gulf blowout and said he needed to change his talk because he knew he had something more important to talk about. The second year he asked how he could help, again. Mike suggested doing a film with the youth in the community. He managed the whole thing and worked with the kids. It was brilliant.

“This year, the unthinkable happened,” he said. “Mike blew up in a helicopter crash. And, I thought, what would Mike have done with The Unthinkable for this TEDx ? That’s when we came up with working with students from each school and having them think about their own future TEDx talk.”

Sylvester continued, “My desire, or perhaps my hallucination, is that each one of these teens will have a lot of conversations with adults during the day and that one of the conversations will profoundly affect their lives. I dream that one of the kids will come up to me in a grocery store 20 years from now and say, ‘Mark, thank you for inviting me to TEDx because now I’m president, a nuclear physicist, or whatever and I was inspired at TEDx. The most important thing for me is that teens find their ‘Yes, I Can!’ due to the unthinkable spark at TEDxAmericanRiviera.”

TEDxAmericanRiviera 2012 sponsors include platinum sponsors Lynda.com and Sientra, gold sponsors Citrix and QAD, and silver sponsors CompuVision, Maps.com, Blue Isle Bookkeeping and Cox Communications. Speakers include doctors, musicians, philosophers, dance instructors, strategists, actresses, martial artists, near-death survivors, professors, artists, problem solvers, authors and psychologists.

Click here for more information on TEDx American Riviera 2012, or to purchase tickets. There are limited tickets still available for the Main Stage and the Active lounge. The conference also will be streamed live at TEDxAmericanRiviera.com and Noozhawk.com.

Noozhawk contributing writer Nancy Shobe is a volunteer for the 2012 TEDxAmericanRiviera. She is also a published writer and photographer, and her work has appeared in local and national magazines, newspapers and online media. Nancy authored the Insider’s Guide to Santa Barbara Fourth Edition; co-wrote the documentary film Above Santa Barbara; and blogs about life with chickens at Chicken-Women.blogspot.com. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or follow her on Twitter: @shobebiz.




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