Five students from Lafayette County Middle School each took the stage Thursday night in front of friends and family to talk about changing the world.

The event was LMS’s inaugural TED-Ed Conference and had the theme of “Be Yourself, Change the World.”

The first student to take the stage was Justin Arman. He discussed the importance of originality, of pushing limits and being as true to yourself as you can, even if that might seem a little over the top to people at times. He gave examples of Einstein, Lady Gaga and Johnny Depp, how they are each brilliant in their own craft, yet were repeatedly mocked for being a little out there.

Lesly Davis talked about how reading changed the way she saw the world. Books helped give her a little bit of control when she often felt she had none. As she put it, they let her be a part of a world and a place by choice. Books gave her the power to choose, which, as a young person and someone who has faced her own personal challenges, isn’t something she always felt she had.

Next on the stage was Jazz Aydah who talked about the issues that arise from conformity and this idea that, even as adults, we must fit in. Layla Hill followed with her discussion on the importance of protecting animals and advocating for their fair treatment. She named off ways the audience could better the lives of animals, and therefore better the state of the world.

The last student to take the stage was Elsie Andre. Her talk was titled “Travel to Creativity,” where she showed pictures of herself when she lived in Africa with her family. She discussed how travel builds empathy and how making a conscious effort to understand another culture can make drastically improve our openness and ability understand fellow humans.

Judges declared Elsie the winner of the night. She will go on to deliver her talk at the University of Mississippi’s TED-Ed event next year, where she will open the event.

TED stands for Technology Entertainment and Design and is an organization that encourages the exchange of ideas and importance of spreading knowledge. The organization’s famous TED Talks are famous for bringing in great minds and giving them a platform to discuss topics they’ve spent a lot of time with.

Independent TED events happen all over the world and are referred to as TEDx. Lafayette County Middle School is the first school-level organization in the state to be officially sanctioned as a chapter of TED.

The idea of bringing the TEDx to Lafayette came from student teacher Shelby Knighten. Knighten worked under eighth grade English teacher Katie Szabo. As a student at Ole Miss, Knighten was involved with the organizing of the university’s TED events.

Szabo and her colleague Elisa Bryant had been talking about starting a club at the school for a while at this point. They thought maybe a poetry club or writing group, but then Knighten’s idea of working with TED came up and they loved it. Szabo and Bryant decided to run with it.

They made up invitations that contained a puzzle. Students had to solve the puzzle to find the location of the first meeting. Szabo and Bryant gave the invitations out to students they’d taught who they though would enjoy being involved in the program. Right before the first meeting, they opened it to everyone, making an announcement over the intercom that everyone was welcome, invitation or not.

Students flooded in for that first September meeting, eager to see what it had all been about.

Meetings continued every other Monday. Little by little, membership waned, which is what the teachers were hoping for. They wanted the students who were committed to this, who really wanted to be a part of this. They weren’t looking for students doing it because they had nothing better to do. The students who stayed were the ones willing to pour they’re all into it.

Szabo and Bryant said that probably the most rewarding thing about this entire process was giving these kids a voice, making an auditorium of people stop and listen to what they had to say, to let them know their voices matter.

“We see a lot of adults, and that sometimes includes teachers, who don’t see these kids,” Bryant said. “They’re so underestimated. They surprise you. They have ideas. They have a voice, and they want to change the world, even at 12 or 13. They’re capable.”

The two teachers said they are already so excited to see what comes from next year’s club members.

chaning.green@journalinc.com Twitter: @chaningthegreen

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