TEDxYouth: Speakers Share Personal Breakthroughs With Students

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TEDXYouth -- a global series of events where youth in grades 8-12 gather at locations around the world for a day of inspiring talks and conversation -- happened this past Saturday, November 19th. HuffPost High School was honored to participate as a speaker at The Hewitt School in New York City. The below was written by Isabella Santandreu, 16, an official TEDXYouth reporter from The Hewitt Times.

Have you ever left an event so mind-boggling that you felt the need to call all your friends to discuss it? An event so inspiring, that you overlooked the fact that you were supposed to be mad at your mom just so you could talk to her about it? Well, that's what TEDxYouth@Hewitt did for me.

TEDxYouth at Hewitt is one of over 100 conferences organized for kids, and often by kids, that happened all over the world between November 19 and November 21. The events strive to empower and inspire young people. While all conferences share the common theme, "Play, Learn, Build & Share," most events had another unique theme that encompassed the spirit of their speakers' talks. For TEDxYouth@Hewitt, that theme was "BREAKthrough" since many of the speakers shared stories of personal epiphany and overcoming barriers.

As the day of the event approached, attendees were asked to think about the question, "What is your breakthrough?" What is my breakthrough? Quite honestly, if asked, I would have said my breakthrough was reaching the finish line at a cross-country race, being allowed to take three AP classes (which isn't usually allowed in my school), or moving from Caracas to New York. However, after attending TEDxYouth@Hewitt, I no longer see those as breakthroughs, but more as obstacles. Starting November 19, my breakthrough is TEDxYouth@Hewitt.

When co-curator for the event, Sofia Stafford, a junior at The Hewitt School, welcomed the audience to what I already knew would be a thought-provoking event, she said, "By being here, you are part of a worldwide movement." At the moment, I didn't realize that Sofia was right; we were all part of a worldwide movement.

Every single speaker and performer was able to captivate the audience in a way that I had yet to see before, and during the first break, students swarmed around all of them to express their gratitude and talk about their personal stories and breakthroughs. One particular standout from Slate One was Marc Elliot, who ended his mind-blowing speech by encouraging us to "live and let live," to tolerate others and to never let ourselves take action on our assumptions.

The students truly took this event and made it even more than what everyone hoped it would be. When they weren't introducing themselves to fellow audience members or speakers (or eating some of FLIK's delicious chocolate-chip cookies), students could be seen writing their thoughts on large Post-It notes that the ACTION club (the event's organizers) had set out. I was amazed when I saw these boards and what had been written on them. When asked what their breakthrough was, some students wrote: "Perfection is highly overrated," "Helping others, which in turn helps me," and "Quitting gymnastics." The responses to questions like "What is your most memorable quote from today?" and "How are you going to take action?" were equally as eloquent and thoughtful.

As the event wrapped up, I walked around the auditorium looking for someone that could sum up their experience of the day in 140 characters. Not surprisingly, no one was able to accomplish the task. When I asked a student from the St. Luke's School for her help, she was silent for two minutes, trying to draw all her thoughts from the day into a cohesive sentence. Once she did that, she quite simply told me, "I need a lot more than 140 characters to truly express how this day has inspired me." I told her I understood her predicament, because I felt the same way. However, here I am, having typed up 3,511 characters and knowing that I could go on for 3,511 more.

Since I got home from TEDxYouth@Hewitt, I've been watching tidbits from the different conferences happening around the world. Most of the ideas being discussed are widespread. For example, Brad Meltzer from the TEDxYouth conference, Jamaal Nelson from TEDxYouth@Hewitt, and Dani Reiss from TEDxYouth@Toronto all focused on the power that children hold and reinforced the fact that “age is but a number." What I have come to realize, however, is that regardless of where you live, who your parents are, or how old you are, everyone aspires to be someone great, and it is through conferences like these that we get the strength, hope, and inspiration to keep going and realize our dreams.

I left TEDxYouth@Hewitt motivated for the future, ready to embrace my failures, more tolerant and willing to "live and let live," wanting to change the world (because yes, it is a sexy idea), knowing that age shouldn’t be a restriction, accepting myself exactly as I am, and excited to doodle in class on Monday (Thanks, Sunni Brown!)... The list could go on and on and on. I'm proud to say that I now have the tools I need to become the best Isabella Santandreu I can be.

If you would like to watch a clip from one of our nine speakers or three performers, I invite you all to visit tedxyouthathewitt.org.

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