TEDx returns to Gunn High on Jan. 16

Speakers to explore technology, mental health, art, education

TEDx is returning to Gunn High School in Palo Alto for the fourth year this Friday, Jan. 16, with high school students lined up to give talks along with speakers like the founders of Siri, a Stanford University genetics professor and an 18-year-old Google intern from Tel Aviv.

TEDx speaker series are hosted under the umbrella of the Sapling Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to "ideas worth spreading," but are independently organized (hence the "x") throughout the world. At Gunn, a student club runs the annual, free event, doing everything from inviting intriguing people to speak on intriguing topics to filming the presentations, applying for grants and managing a website.

Senior Gabriel Alon, co-president of the TEDx club, said Gunn's event is set apart in both organization and setting. Last year the all-day conference was held for the first time in Spangenberg Theatre, which seats close to 1,000 people.

"With respect to TEDx at high schools, they're pretty rare," Alon said. (Both Palo Alto High School and Castilleja School do host their own versions, though Gunn was one of the first in the nation to do so in 2011.) "We are probably the only one that seats close to 1,000 people at our event. They're usually pretty small events if it's at a high school -- or they're run by adults. We're run by students."

TEDx speakers are asked to "give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less," the Gunn website reads. The talks are always recorded; videos are posted online for free for the world to view and share. (Twelve presentations from the 2014 Gunn event are posted online here. This year's will be posted within a month to the same YouTube account.)

The 12 people speaking at Gunn on Friday include five students. Seniors Calvin Wang and Brendan Wong, co-founders of photo blog Humans of Palo Alto, will talk about the experience of running this website, which involves asking strangers sometimes intimate questions and posting the people's responses online.

Attendees can also hear senior Soumithri Bala, captain of the Gunn Robotics Team, discuss the impact of 3-D printing on technology – and see live the 3-D printer he made himself.

Seniors Ebrahim Feghhi and Lucas Munro will talk about creative and sharable technology with an environmental tilt. Feghhi serves as Gunn's environmental commissioner, an elected student position.

Gunn English teacher Ronen Habib will also share his inspiration for creating the school's Positive Psychology course, a class that starts with three-minute mindfulness exercises and explores texts such as "The Happiness Advantage," "The Art and Practice of Loving" and "Tuesdays with Morrie."

Other speakers will explore topics ranging from mental health to arts education to the Human Genome Project. They include Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of freshman at Stanford University; Palo Alto artist Sukey Bryan; and Tom Gruber, Siri co-founder and underwater photographer, among others. View the full speaker list here.

Organizer Alon said it takes a whole year of planning for just a single day, but "when you see these cool people that you wouldn't have access to speaking in front of you," it's all worth it.

"It's not like they're giving graduation speeches," he added. "They're talking about what their fields are and what they've created."

Alon said the Jan. 16 event is already oversubscribed, but people can still register online and will receive an email asking them to confirm whether or not they will attend. The event is from 8:30 a.m. to about 2 p.m. in the Spangenberg Theatre, 780 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto. Seating begins at 8:15 a.m. There will be several intermissions throughout the day.

The first 700 students to sign up will be excused from school, though if they wish to go back to class, they may.

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2 people like this
Posted by Christine Yang
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 13, 2015 at 8:48 pm

As a senior, I've attended multiple Ted talks during my time at Gunn. I can honestly say that some of the best ideas that I've heard have come from these talks, and I highly recommend this to anyone in the community. I'm always pleasantly surprised at what the speakers have to say, and I'm disappointed that I won't be able to attend this year because of a teacher's absence policy. If you have the time, by all means, GO!

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