October 11, 2014 LONDON UK

Report from TEDxTeen

School Library Journal®

Entrepreneurs, social activists, an opera singer, and an autistic math wiz were just some of the inspirational young adults who presented at the TEDxTeen conference in New York City on March 31. Three hundred teens packed the auditorium at Scholastic's Soho headquarters in downtown Manhattan to mix and mingle with the nine presenters, and with each other.

This marked the third year that the We Are Family Foundation (WAFF) has sponsored TEDxTeen, which is independently organized but adheres to the principal of TED by presenting ideas worth spreading. TED Talks, which began in 1984, originally brought together people from technology, entertainment, and design but has since broadened its scope and makes the talks freely available online for viewing. WAFF is a nonprofit organization that supports programs that inspire and educate youth about respect, understanding, and cultural diversity. This year's teens were selected through an application process and traveled from as far away as London. More than 5,000 people from around the globe viewed the event.

The day kicked off with a breakfast with Scholastic YA authors Libba Bray, Siobhan Vivian, Elizabeth Eulberg, and Jeff Hirsch, all of whom were impressed by the accomplishments of the attending teens. Actress Monique Coleman, who plays Taylor McKessie in High School Musical, hosted the event and was introduced to the audience as 'Moprah' because of her work with the United Nations as its first Youth Champion. Serving as a cheerleader, Coleman led off the parade of speakers, beginning with 13-year-old Jacob Barnett, (left) who has autism. He was formally accepted into Princeton University at the age of 10 and is the world's youngest astrophysics researcher. His 18-minute talk was entitled Forget Everything You Know, and carried the message: stop learning and start thinking, which resulted in a standing ovation from the audience. (above: Elizabeth Eulberg with presenter Sujay Tyle)

Teen entrepreneurs Sujay Tyle, 18, and Tavi Gevinson, 15, (at left) dazzled the audience with their stories. Tyle, currently on leave from Harvard, where he matriculated at 15, is vice president of Scopely, a social gaming company. He and his older brother Sheel ReSight also started a group that provides eyecare services for the underprivileged. Gevinson, a self-proclaimed feminist and pop culture nerd, spoke about the multifaceted nature of teen girls in her talk, Still Figuring It Out. She launched RookieMag.com in September 2011, which had more than a million page views within five days of it going live. The site boosts such contributors as author Dan Savage and actress Zooey Deschanel. Other teens who attended were social activists Kristen Powers, Mahmoud Jabari, and Natalie Warne, who use photography or film to educate others about topics ranging from the Middle East conflict to the search for a cure for Huntington's disease. Mteto Maphoyi, a 22-year-old South African boy (at right) from Capetown's shantytown, delivered the most inspiring story of the day. Abandoned by his father as a small child, Maphoyi avoided getting caught up in the cycle of gang life by listening to a Luciano Pavarotti CD and teaching himself how to sing opera with Italian lyrics. He went on to teach five of his friends to sing and formed the Six Tenors, which performed on the streets of Capetown. His story captured the interest of filmmaker Laura Gamse, who featured Maphoyi in the documentary, "The Creators." Maphoyi now attends the Black Tie Ensemble at the State Theatre in Pretoria.

The TEDxTeen Talks from the 2012 event are being added daily to their site for viewing.

Here are SLJTeen's behind the scenes interviews with some of the presenters:

Tavi Gevinson

Monique Coleman

Mteto Maphoyi

Mteto Maphoyi singing "Marechiare"

Rocco Staino, who recently retired from the North Salem Central School District in New York, is chair of the Empire State Center for the Book and Book Festival. As a longtime educator, he was involved with various literacy initiatives on the regional, state, and national levels, and was a longtime chair of the Books for Kids Foundation.

 

This article originally appeared in School Library Journal's enewsletter SLJTeen. Subscribe HERE.