Red was everywhere on the night of Friday, Oct. 21, as the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC) filled with excited members of the community, ready to watch the sold out TEDxCalPoly.
TEDx is an independent branch of the well known nonprofit TED, an organization devoted to sharing ideas, usually through short talks by a diverse mix of speakers.
TED started as a private dinner party held once a year, but has since expanded greatly with the creation of TEDx, sprouting thousands of TEDx talks around the globe in 2015.
In the PAC lobby sat a giant red “X” with the sentence “If I couldn’t fail, I would…” Attendees could fill in the blank.
Aerospace engineering junior Angela Wong wrote “become president” on the “X.”
“Besides engineering, I looked into becoming a leader in a way of marketing and communications,” Wong said. “Plus I’m Asian-American and that would be awesome to have an Asian-American female president.”
The “X,” following the conference’s theme “Plot Twist,” was waiting to be filled with the plot twists of attendees.
Nine speakers took the stage Friday night, each with a “Plot Twist” story of their own.
Starting off the night with a brilliant and chilling speech, kinesiology senior Nicole Huffman had every member of the audience on the verge of tears and on the edge of their seats. She proposed a plan of action to prevent sexual assault before it happens, through education, awareness and normalizing the topic, all with a fiscal incentive.
Huffman explained that for every one dollar the government spends on preventative measures, five dollars are saved. The money saved could include expenses for imprisoning a rapist or providing healthcare for a survivor of sexual assault. Huffman said that by investing in these preventative measures, the United States is saving money in the long run.
The speech received a standing ovation, yet Huffman said she was nervous before, during and after she spoke.
“I took a class with an amazing professor about educating people to encourage them to want to be healthy and make healthy choices,” Huffman said. “The approach I take now is absolutely fueled by my experience at Cal Poly, because if I had not taken that class I wouldn’t have the unique fiscal perspective that I do.”
Huffman hopes to have a career in the field of preventative medicine. She is the head of awareness and education at Cal Poly’s online platform for sexual assault survivors, Current Solutions.
Environmental management and protection senior Jordan Miller, host and founder of “The Nightcap with Jordan Miller,” took the stage as the third speaker with a bit of comic relief.
Miller’s energy and charisma had the entire audience booming with laughter as he played out the evolution of teenage dancing, titled “Dancing Through Puberty.” His story started in his awkward middle school years and landed in his present-day experiences at Creeky Tiki in downtown San Luis Obispo.
While Miller’s message was discretely delivered, it was clear: vulnerability is the only thing that leads to improvement. While allowing oneself to be vulnerable and experience new situations may be uncomfortable, it gives way for improvement and learning.
“I never really thought I wanted to be a comedian, per-se,” Miller said. “One day, it just clicked; I have to go
While on the path to graduating, Miller discovered his passion for spreading a message through entertainment. He hopes to pursue careers similar to Jimmy Fallon of “The Tonight Show” and John Oliver of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” some of his influences.
Another TEDx speaker was Hill Krishnan, an assistant professor at the City University of New York and retired Cal Poly professor. Krishnan came from small beginnings in India to achieve countless successes, including his PhD in political science from Boston University. Krishnan’s story of determination despite what boxes others put him inspired many that night, as he received a standing ovation.
Before he decorated himself with degrees, Krishnan was a low achiever in school. It was only when he realized that he defined his own capability that he succeeded. Krishnan urged the audience to not let other people’s views determine how you view yourself, but let it motivate you to surpass the goals you have for yourself, just as he did after coming to America.
“It’s like a magical dreamland that I was going to,” Krishnan said.“My parents thought, ‘OK you scored a goal to some far away phenomenal country,’ but it was hard at first.”
In 2015, Krishnan received outstanding support in a petition from his students at Cal Poly to be rehired in a tenure position. While the position was not given to him, Krishnan continues to have confidence in his work and in himself.
Finishing off the night was Carissa Phelps, founder of the Runaway Girl foundation, which helps young girls in troubling situations find a way out. Phelps talked about the magic and freedom an eight-year-old has inside of them when they believe in themselves.
Phelps explained that everyone should have the heart of an eight-year-old when achieving their goals. She shared her own experiences with astonishingly confident kids, including a fearless child undergoing a hand replacement surgery.
Similar to Krishnan, Phelps thinks that our minds are our biggest limitation and once we overcome that road block, we are capable of so much.
“Everyone wants to make an impact on the world, and it’s hard,” Phelps said. “But I want them to know that they’ve got it, they’ve got everything that it takes inside of them.”
Besides running her organization, Phelps speaks around the country to inspire people, especially young women, to make the best life for themselves. She also raises awareness for human trafficking.
Because of Friday night’s success, organizers psychology senior Cameron Wiese and economics senior Eli Burch said they plan on making TEDxCalPoly a yearly tradition.
“It was fun. Stressful, but fun,” Wiese said. “It’s a great learning opportunity for me and everyone here and I’m happy we could give that to other people.”