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A Global Conversation to Inspire Youth

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What's your dream?

Is it to launch into Mars with NASA? To get an A on your history exam? How about a dream for gender equality? No matter how large or how small your dream may be, you should never let the idea that a dream is just a figment of intangible hope take control. This mindset of motivation and accomplishment is what inspired this year's TEDxYouthDay.

My school, The Hewitt School, held our third annual TEDx event on Saturday, November 17. Months of tedious planning and hard work finally paid off. I worked on the technological aspects of the event, and from the moment the first guests arrived, I could tell the event was going to be a success. Hewitt halls were buzzing with energy, and the auditorium was in no ordinary state: walls lined with boards full of dreams, a decorated stage adorned with a coveted speaker spotlight, and embellishments of red and black -- the colors of TED -- welcomed audience members.

The five-hour event was comprised of three slates of speakers. During breaks, attendees were given the opportunity to talk with speakers and to take part in innovative break-out activities designed to stimulate collaboration. Speakers from all over with different and inspiring backgrounds congregated at our school with one shared goal: to encourage young people to take steps of action from simple dreams toward real-world change.

The entire day was centered on the universal TEDx theme of "Dream Big... Then Do Something!" On top of that, Hewitt created its own supplemental theme: "The Power of One / The Power of All."

Each speaker shared with us his or her personal story about dreams as well as wider concepts to empower young people to go out and take action, not afraid of what others might think or say.

One speaker who showed this exceptionally well was Scott Warren, founder and executive director of Generation Citizen, which partners college students with teachers to help students solve problems in their own communities.

Scott taught about his personal experiences with democracy, lending his views on how we are able to make collaborative differences through individual actions. In his TED talk, Scott noted, "Because we do have the opportunities to dream big and to make a difference, we should utilize these resources to the best of our abilities to advocate for our voice as a nation and as people."

In an interview I conducted with Scott, when asked about the specific roles we all play, he said, "In my opinion, democracies work best when individuals use their own voices to come together to make a collective impact, which is what TEDxYouth Day is all about. We all express our own opinions as part of the greater collective good."

Another speaker, Silda Wall Spitzer, the former first lady of New York, reminded us all that age should not be a deciding factor in achieving your dreams. She has worked with young people for the past 17 years to help them in finding their voice through service and volunteering, by founding GenerationOn, the global youth service movement of Points of Light. Through the work I am personally doing with GenerationOn, I constantly see how this mission of igniting all kids to make their mark on the world through service can actually translate into real action.

Throughout her time at Hewitt, Silda gave advice to students about tackling dreams:

  1. "Dream as big as you can because you are the only one who can limit your potential."
  2. "Proactively identifying a problem and reflecting on the process is ideal framework and training in approaching your careers and opportunities through service, both creatively and entrepreneurially."
  3. "Big can be little, and little can be a lot."
  4. "Don't be afraid to embark on the change you want to see in the world, whatever the size."

Silda was really able to emphasize just how important we, as kids, can be. Our steps to action may take us to new, unfamiliar territory, but we can't be afraid to explore it just because some people say we're too young.

In addition to all our other wonderful speakers like Jamia Wilson, vice president of programs at the Women's Media Center, we were shown other ways to conquer dreams through art. Slam poets Ashley Johnson and Lo Anderson, a dance group focused on sending positive messages through performance art called DOLLARBOYZ, and artist-activist Maggie Tobin, who promotes art for social change, all showed us that our dreams can come in all shapes and sizes.

TEDxYouthDay 2012 saw 100 TEDx events designed specifically for youth hosted on November 17 and 18 in 42 different countries, in honor of Universal Children's Day. It's something bigger than just one school or community. This global conversation, as Scott Warner puts it, "Gives youth the opportunity to truly see that their voices matter and that they can make a difference."

Teens and kids everywhere can take action, but we can't leave it all up to adults -- we have to be part of the change and the solution. If this year's TEDxYouth@Hewitt conference and all 41 others like it have shown us anything, it's that we truly do have the power to create change and to start a ripple effect, for passion will usually serve as ample fuel to start something bigger than ourselves.

And remember, 'big' is relative. Any idea or spark counts as a step toward change: It can be anything from awareness or advocacy online to having a presentation in your community to creating a product for social betterment. We have a great chance to speak up and use all that's around us, unlike those in many other countries, so why not take advantage of it? All the dreams we turn into realities today will affect the futures we inherit tomorrow, and the movement of TEDx has really shown that.

So now, go out and dream big... And then do something about it! What's your plan of action?