TEDxMiddlebury Student Speaker Chosen

By Bridget Colliton

On Thursday, Oct. 8, 12 students competed for the opportunity to be the student speaker selection for next month’s TEDxMiddlebury conference. Gathering in Dana Auditorium, students had four minutes to present a condensed version of their proposed TED talks to a panel of judges. Topics this year included domestic violence, art and spoken word poetry, all of which fell under this year’s theme, “Caught in the Act.” Casey Wanna ’17 was selected as the winner and will give her talk at the sixth annual TEDxMiddlebury Conference on Sunday, Nov. 8.

Wanna’s pitch focused on her recovery from anorexia nervosa and the larger implications of that for the College community.

“Middlebury has a very keen focus on body type, and it’s very much entrenched in this idea that this thinness and this idealized body image is something that is very much desired” said Wanna. “I feel like there’s a lot of judgments that are passed on people due to body image and that there are a lot of cultural expectations that are just unachievable.”

Wanna intends for her talk to start broader conversations not only about body image but also about mental health.

“I want to focus on this internal dialogue that we run in our own minds, and how we can shift that internal dialogue from being negative to being positive, and what efforts we can make in that regard,” she said.

“I think this has a lot to do with body image particularly. However, I think it has a lot of broader implications in terms of mental health treatment.”

This year’s theme, “Caught in the Act,” focuses on self-discovery in college.

“College is a time for identity. You are thinking about who you are, looking back on who you were, and are able to see where you come from for the first time because you are not surrounded by it anymore” said Anna Jacobsen ’16.5, who is on the board of TEDxMiddlebury. “‘Caught in the Act’ is this idea of how our actions and how our own self-exploration inform our identity.”

TED, which stands for technology, entertainment and design, started in 1984 in order to showcase, as their tagline says, “ideas worth spreading.” The nonprofit has since grown to include multiple conferences throughout the year. The TEDx program began as an offshoot of the larger TED organization to create similar conferences at the local level.

The Programs on Creativity and Innovation launched TEDxMiddlebury in 2010. The program has rapidly expanded in the last six years, moving from McCardell Bicentennial Hall to the Mahaney Center for the Arts in order to accommodate the growing number of attendees. Speakers are professionally filmed during the conference and their presentations, which typically run at 18 minutes each and are uploaded to the TEDxMiddlebury YouTube page. In 2012 TEDxMiddlebury included the student speaker component.

In addition to one selected student speaker, the program also hosts six outside speakers.

“One of the biggest ways TEDx has grown is [that] we have really strong speakers,” Jacobsen said.

“People on TEDx have really learned what makes a good speaker and recognize when people are [at] points in their careers when they could give a really influential TED talk.”

In choosing outside speakers, TEDxMiddlebury aims to address issues relevant to the Middlebury community. “I see TEDxMiddlebury as being reactionary to events and thoughts on campus,” Jacobsen said. We bring speakers who can add insight to events on campus or issues that people are talking about,” said Jacobsen.

Speakers at this year’s conference include Marco Mezzavilla, a web development and computer science expert, and Brendan O’Neill, a migrant justice activist. Notable past speakers include spoken word poet Alok Vaidmenon, who gave a talk titled “We are Nothing and that is Beautiful,” and Assistant Professor of Dance Christal Brown, whose talk titled “Moving Questions” centered on nonverbal communication.

In the month leading up to her talk, Wanna will work with oratory coaches in order to develop her proposal into an 18 minute Ted Talk.

“My topic is really relevant to me,” Wanna said. “It has a completely personal basis, and I honestly feel like it’s a message that needs to be heard.”