TEDx talk engages community, brings ideas

Corey Silberstein ’12 performed Chopin’s waltz in A-flat on the piano during the middle of one of the three sessions. (Courtesy of tedxswarthmore.com)

After a year of planning, TEDxSwarthmore went off last Saturday without a hitch. With a crew of volunteers in place and a huge TEDxSwarthmore logo crafted by the LPAC crew sitting confidently on stage, the event’s planners and speakers were able to sit back and absorb the ideas being floated around the Pearson-Hall Theatre as 12 speakers — professors, alumni, friends of the college and a student — took the stage to offer their vision of a “good society.”

“By just about any measurement the event was a tremendous success,” Nancy Nicely, Vice President for Communications, said in an email. “LPAC was filled, we had over 800 distinct viewers on the live stream; there was furious tweeting throughout the day; the lobby was buzzing with conversation in between the sessions.”

Mary Jean Chan, winner of the TEDxSwarthmore student challenge. (Courtesy of tedxswarthmore.com)

The constraints on the talks — 18 minutes maximum, answering the question “what makes a good society?” — didn’t limit the breadth of subject matter. In brief, the speakers’ good societies would include “big” government (Mark Kuperberg); the liberal arts (Rebecca Chopp); universal recognition of the importance of missing data in statistics (Steve Wang); and open, “compassionate” communication between the sciences and other academic disciplines (Amy Cheng Vollmer), among other things.

The organizers of the event, in what was perhaps an implicit attempt at answering the question, added music and poetry to the mix. Each taking the stage in the middle of one of the three sessions, Corey Silberstein ’12 performed Chopin’s waltz in A-flat on the piano, the Tri-Co a cappella group Chaverim crooned several folk tunes and Javier Perez ’13 and Noel Quiñones ’15 spit spoken word poetry.

Before Quiñones began his poem, he told the audience he hoped they would take his words with them and put them into practice, a hope shared by the event organizers. “We wanted the ideas [presented in the talks] to be actionable,” Michael Xu ‘12, a student planner, said.

John Alston, Associate Professor of Music and the penultimate speaker, met this goal by providing a goal of his own, asking that the audience members build five new schools in Chester. He told the story of the Chester Children’s Chorus, a youth organization that he founded, and the new charter school he has been involved with creating in Chester, then called for the support of the Swarthmore community in Chester. His exhortations were met with a standing ovation, one of the most enthusiastic audience responses of the day.

According to Nicely, the conversations generated by Alston’s talk along with the others are a perfect fit for Swarthmore. “It so perfectly embodies the things that Swarthmore stands for and cares about. The opportunity to think deeply, communicate meaningfully, and provide an avenue for all community members to engage in this level of discourse fits our ethos perfectly.”

The conversation was further transmitted across the internet, as a live feed of the talks drew 800 distinct viewers. Much of the event’s $30,000 went to the contractor (the same that does Commencement) that organized the live stream.

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