Teens seek inspiration in speaker quest

Student organizers of Gunn TEDx conference describe their process

A small group of Gunn High School students began their quest to find "inspiring people" last summer.

Meeting at Starbucks or in the Mitchell Park Library, they queried their parents and friends.

"We were looking for people who might be obscure, but did awesome, even mindblowing, things that are just really interesting," said Gunn sophomore Kathleen Xue.

This Friday, they'll present their final cut of 13 inspiring people in a seven-hour TEDx Conference, with the theme "Be the Variable."

"A lot of the speakers aren't really famous," said Xue, who led the speaker-search group. "They didn't pop up on our newsfeeds. We just sort of took the initiative to try to find them ourselves. We actually really searched for them."

For example, they found Hunter Franks on the website "," which describes itself as a source of "creative solutions for living well and doing good."

"He's not very famous, but he's doing this wonderful thing in San Francisco, distributing postcards from underdeveloped neighborhoods to the rich neighborhoods," Xue said.

Franks, who founded the SF Postcard Project less than a year ago, gets city residents to randomly send postcard to other residents, sharing what they like about the community.

Friday's program includes a sprinkling of Gunn students themselves, including musicians Kyoko Inagawa and Irene Jeong, both of whom have played at Carnegie Hall; dancer Moira Saxena and artist and cartoonist Lisa Zhang.

It also includes a priest, an entrepreneur-turned-philanthropic-investor, a Berkeley professor and at least one Stanford student.

Gunn junior Maya Ram, who co-chairs the TEDx production team, said 15 or 20 students have met weekly since July to organize the event, with extra technical help on things like video and photography from dozens more.

Both Ram and Xue said they've been enthusiastic consumers of TED talks since childhood.

"When I was in sixth grade one my teachers showed us a TED video about creativity, about how lots of times adults lose that creativity that kids have so naturally, and that aspect of creativity was necessary to be productive and happy as you grow older," Ram said.

"I really liked it and went home and told my dad about it. He told me there were a lot more TED videos online, so we used to watch them together.

When they arrived at Gunn as freshmen, both Ram and Xue said they were excited to learn they could actually join a campus TEDx club. Gunn librarian Meg Omainsky had applied for a TEDx license in 2011 as a way to promote a culture of collaboration and idea-sharing among students. Advising the club today is photographer teacher Jennifer Hogan.

With the TED app on her phone, Xue says she enjoys watching the videos in her free time.

"The greatness of TED is they're not trying to implement people whose faces everyone recognizes, but rather people doing things nobody's ever heard of before, but when they hear of it they're completely inspired," she said.

Friday's day-long event is free and open to the community. To register, see the website at


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