‘Inspirational’ TEDxLUC speakers enlighten Loyola students

(The Phoenix/Hannah Helbert)Marc Smith, poet and founder of the International Slam Poetry Movement at Chicago’s Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, explained ways the audience can fight for ideals that help others.
(The Phoenix/Hannah Helbert)Marc Smith, poet and founder of the International Slam Poetry Movement at Chicago’s Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, explained ways the audience can fight for ideals that help others.

For more than 200 people on Saturday, March 16, red and black were the colors of the day, rather than the bright green of the Chicago River for the St. Patrick’s Day holiday. Red and black signaled the first annual TEDxLUC event. “Extraordinary people, ideas and lives” was the focus of the four-hour event.

“I thought it was incredibly inspirational; all of the talks were incredibly different, but it all tied to the theme … well. I hope it’s an annual event,” said Michelle Peters, a sophomore who attended the event.

The event, held in Sullivan Center’s Galvin Auditorium, featured six speakers, three from the Loyola community and three from the greater Chicago area. The program also included a performance from three Loyola a cappella groups: The Silhouettes, The Acafellas and Loyolacappella. A catered reception in Cudahy Library’s Donovan Reading Room followed the program of speakers.

TEDxLUC is an offshoot of TED, a nonprofit founded in 1984 devoted to “ideas worth spreading” and bringing together the worlds of Technology, Education and Design, according to the official TED website. They achieve this goal by hosting large conferences where thinkers give 18-minute-or-less talks on anything they are passionate about. TEDx is an independent version of the TED conferences, which allows groups to organize their own free events outside of the costly, large -scale TED conferences, after attaining a license from TED and agreeing to abide by specific guidelines.

Among these guidelines was allowing only 100 attendees at the event. The attendees were selected after an online application process in February. According to Peter Kobak, the emcee for the program and a member of the planning committee, another 104 people joined in on the event via an online live stream link, which was open to anyone. The event’s planning committee hopes to make the speaking event an annual occurrence, allowing even more attendees to get involved, extending the 100-person limit. He hopes that the program will continue as a tradition on campus for years to come.

“It went really well … There was no structure, we weren’t trying to live up to anything, but people said they were really excited and we started a good tradition at Loyola … I think we really started a dialogue, so I am happy,” said Kobak, 21-year-old senior political science major.

Mario Hernandez, a senior who attended and performed at TEDxLUC with Loyolacappella, also hopes the event will continue.

“It’s really awesome. I think it should be done on campus definitely at least once a year. [It was] inspiring and encouraging knowing that [the speakers] are ‘regular’ people who it turns out are not so regular. It just brings down the image of doing something awesome, you don’t have to go out and save the world to save the world,” said the 20-year-old political science major.

In addition to the six live speakers present at the event, two prerecorded TED talks were played in accordance with TEDx guidelines. This combination allowed for a wide variety of topics, from cold showers to flash mobs, to self-worth, to what one woman learned from her autistic brothers.

While Kobak wouldn’t reveal his favorite speaker, Peters was quick to respond with a favorite.

“Every time [Susan Haarman] speaks, my mind gets blown in a different way. She’s every good form of crazy that there is,” said the 19-year-old theology major.

Hernandez shared his favorite idea from the day, which he thinks is important for college students to remember.

“The importance of reflecting and trying to really find out who you are … that’s what all these people in their own way did, and it’s kind of what we are trying to do in college in different ways.”

Over the next few weeks, videos from the event will be edited and submitted for acceptance to the official TED website and YouTube channel.

Kobak urges anyone who might want to get involved with TEDxLUC in the future to contact the group at, so that the event can continue, since many of this year’s planning committee will not be at Loyola next year. The group will hold an informational meeting to pass along advice on how to organize the next TEDxLUC event.

TEDx speaker profiles

Joel Runyon, who runs a blog about accomplishing “impossible” things, urged attendees not to be afraid to get uncomfortable in order to push themselves, using the example of taking a cold shower every morning in order to get used to being uncomfortable.

“If you’re not willing or able to be the type of person that is willing to be uncomfortable for five minutes alone in the shower, where the only negative outcome is you being cold for five minutes, and the only person affected by that decision is you, then how will you ever have the strength or the courage to choose to be uncomfortable in a situation where the outcomes are much, much greater and the people affected by your decisions far outnumber just yourself?”

Kevin O’Connor, a senior lecturer at Loyola’s Institute of Pastoral Studies and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies, is a Loyola alum for both his bachelor’s degree and one of his three masters degrees. A Certified Speaking Professional, O’Connor explained why capabilities are more important than a person’s résumé or connections.

“…The –ing is important. The –ing turns the noun into a verb … it takes work into working, it takes influence into influencing, lead into leading, which leads to not just hire, but hiring. That –ing is important.”

Yasmina Blackburn, a Muslim-American and self-proclaimed suburban soccer mom, is a board member of the MyJihad Inc., a public education campaign which works to reclaim the meaning of the word Jihad and make its proper definition known.

“The MyJihad Campaign has created dialogue amongst people of all faiths, but dialogue is different than debate … it’s dialogue to build bridges that go beyond coexistence, that go beyond simply tolerating each other, so we could celebrate our differences and our similarities.”

Susan Haarman, a chaplain and coordinator for Alternative Break Immersions at Loyola and an endurance athlete, explained to the audience how endurance sports can offer insight into faith and spirituality.

“When the finite within us brushes up against the infinite, we realize that it is life, and not death, that has no limits. Endurance allows our bodies to experience that chase after the horizion, to understand ourselves as capable of far more than we ever could have imagined. And so it is with our souls. Everyday, every moment, every achievement, no matter how great or small is never the last word on a life.”

Sarah Benson is a sophomore at Loyola and chairwoman of the board of Kids Caring 4 Kids, a non-profit that raises money and awareness for children in Africa. She shared her story of finding value in finding herself, and how to use who you are to help others.

“I realize that it’s the small things in life that make a difference. I realize that there is no such thing as enough of a difference. A difference is a difference, whether it’s in baking, whether it’s in running, whether it’s in editing friends’ papers, whether it’s just in saying ‘hi, how are you?’ They all matter. It’s in these small acts of love that we find ourselves because they leave us with love too.”

Marc Smith, a poet and the founder of the International Slam Poetry Movement at Chicago’s very own Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, explained to audience members the importance of fighting for ideals in ways that help others.

“It’s my belief that art, writing poetry, performing it, theater, dance, is sacred. It’s a life-changing human activity directed toward uncovering the truth about oneself and the society at large. It’s about opening one’s eyes and helping others to see the harms they may be blind to. It’s also about fighting the good fight, about standing up to very real evils that exist around us without becoming evil yourself.”

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