With focus on insight, TEDxFoggyBottom draws spectators to Lisner

Students Jane Zhang, left, and Yang Yin share their thoughts during an interactive exercise at TEDxFoggyBottom. Emily Benn | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Students Jane Zhang, left, and Yang Yin share their thoughts during an interactive exercise at TEDxFoggyBottom. Emily Benn | Hatchet Staff Photographer
This post was written by Hatchet reporter Victoria Sheridan

More than 20 speakers took the stage Friday in Lisner Auditorium aiming to mobilize Foggy Bottom with their experiences and ideas.

Speeches at TEDxFoggyBottom, which covered issues ranging from immigration rights to sexual assault prevention to protection of endangered giant pandas at the National Zoo, drew spectators to campus for nearly nine hours.

The third-annual conference focused on the theme “Illuminate,” looking to inspire spectators to question old ways of thinking.

Aakif Ahmad, co-founder and chief operating officer of the nonprofit Convergence Center for Policy Resolution, highlighted the challenges behind national and international policy formation. He argued that a “safe space for talking, having a unified frame and building trust and understanding” are key to overcoming polarization and gridlock.

“The facilitation of individuals with different sensibilities and perspectives is a powerful untapped resource to unleash the creative powers we need to address the challenges of the 21st century,” Ahmad said.

The field director of Detention Watch Network, Catalina Nieto called her audience to action.

Nieto came to the United States from Colombia in 2000, and today she leads a coalition of organizations that she said exposes unjust treatment of immigrants. She urged spectators to join a collective effort to “challenge and dismantle this system” of detention and deportation.

Others called for more simple actions, such as Danny Harris, creative director of design firm StorySocial. The firm tries to build communities both online and offline, and Harris asked listeners to get to know the people who live around them.

“I’m asking that you be more present and you be more aware,” Harris urged.

Priyanka Pardasani, a junior and one of two students who spoke at TEDx, told the audience she overcame personal struggles by “taking out the trash” in her life. She labeled her anxiety “orange soda,” a reference to the Nickelodean television show “Kenan and Kel,” to put a positive spin on tough situations.

Nicole Lynn Lewis, chief executive officer of Generation Hope, spoke about ending the stigma that surrounds teen pregnancy and empowering teen parents. A teen mother herself, Lewis has worked to help others earn their college degrees as she did.

“I want us all to do something. My prayer today is that you will leave here and go out into the world and continue to spread the light,” she said.

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