Last summer, I was wandering through the hallways of a Midwestern university campus when a tattered TEDx poster caught my eye. “Why aren’t we doing that at Whitman?” I thought.
The question quickly morphed from “Why not?” to “When?”
The idea of TED, an acronym that stands for technology, entertainment and design, is simple enough: create a space where people come together to, in the words of the TED tagline, share “ideas worth spreading.”
TEDx events are one of the many off-shoots of the TED brand. Because these events are specifically designed to be independently organized at a local level, TEDx was a perfect fit for a college like Whitman, in a town like Walla Walla.
More important than the idea or the fit, however, was the opportunity to expose Whitman students to the innovation and creativity of Walla Walla through a medium they were familiar with, while at the same time showcasing Whitman faculty, staff and students in a unique way.
The journey to TEDxWhitmanCollege officially started on that very premise, when a small group of faculty, staff, students and community members gathered to gauge our shared interest. We had no idea what to expect. What we got was an insatiable energy and passion to see this vision to fruition.
We agreed early on that bringing an event of this scale to Walla Walla had to involve, from its inception, a strong partnership with the community. We looked to balance the needs and interests of the campus with those of the community in all aspects of the event, including organizing committee members, sponsors, speakers and audience members.
Our theme, “Walla Walla and Beyond,” was purposefully broad. We weren’t interested in pigeon-holing potential speakers or audience members into a pre-conceived notion about what “beyond” was or what it meant; rather, we wanted an opportunity to explore the myriad interpretations.
Our speaker applicants did not disappoint. In the end, we selected an eclectic group of speakers — community members, students, faculty and alumni — who understood “beyond” to mean distance and time, place and space, notion and nation.
TEDxWhitmanCollege succeeded well beyond my wildest imagination. Who would have believed you could blend talks about snakes, curiosity, etiquette books, aquaponics, intellectual conformity, hip-hop music and problem-based learning into a cohesive and coherent program? But we did.
What the audience experienced on April 27 was the destination. However, I was privy to an amazing journey of collaboration in the form of planning meetings, auditions, troubleshooting, dress rehearsals and tech preparations as I watched students, faculty and staff work side-by-side with community members. This cooperation was most palpable in the involvement of our students. Behind the scenes, watching organizing committee members Quinn Gordon ’16 and Blair Frank ’13 working on program design, themes, sound and lights, stage sets, ticket vendors and venues was a weekly reminder of the passion Whitman students bring to just about anything they do.
We set out to reach beyond our respective spheres of community and campus, and these two students spent much of their year at the intersection of campus and community.
After the event our two student speakers, Theo Ciszewski ’15 and Jordan Benjamin ’13, were surrounded by campus and community audience members vying for their attention, ideas and answers. This was the perfect image to capture all the vision, energy and emotion of this event.
I couldn’t have asked for a better memory to pack away with what, in the end, was a phenomenal demonstration of the kind of partnership Whitman strives to build with the Walla Walla community. Given this success, I envision future local TEDx events to be even more spectacular.
To see all the speakers and presentation titles, click here.
Later this month videos of all the presentations will be posted on the website. For now, click here.
Juli Dunn is the director of Whitman’s Academic Resource Center, which mentors and advises students to promote learning, scholarship and individual success. A longtime Walla Walla resident, she has served on the boards of several community organizations.