The audience of Gaston Hall heard the stories of a media executive developing coverage for this year’s general election, a student reflecting on a recent suicide attempt and another on his diagnosis as being HIV-positive at the sixth annual TEDxGeorgetown event in Gaston Hall on Saturday.
The speakers included Executive Vice President of Editorial, CNN U.S. and Digital Worldwide General Manager Andrew Morse, Jeong Whan Park (SFS ’17), Amina Gerbbi (MSB ’17), Anthony Anderson (COL’18) and Mary Beth Bruggeman, executive director of the southeast region for The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps connect veterans with service opportunities in America.
The theme of the conference, which is based on the TED format but is entirely organized by students, was inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.”
TEDx Co-Chair Natalia Peña (COL ’17) said a tipping point is defined as something that can seem momentous or minuscule and can be experienced by anyone.
“A tipping point can be a huge life event or just making the decision to get out of bed this morning. That’s the beauty of it,” Peña said.
The 10 talks were broken up into three different sessions spread throughout the day. Each block was followed by breakout sessions, in which audience members were able to ask questions and hear from the speakers in a more intimate setting.
As an undocumented student, Agnes Lee (SFS ’17), shared her experiences with student group UndocuHoyas and how they helped her embrace her identity.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had arrived at home,” Lee said. “We uplifted one another and empowered one another because we knew that we were stronger together.”
Lee said the tipping point in her acceptance of the profoundness and commonality of the undocumented experience came as she sat in mourning with a friend’s undocumented mother in Los Angeles.
“This was one of those moments when I wanted everything around me to stop. Just all the noise, I wanted it to be silent and I wanted to just hold one another, and just understand what that grip meant,” Lee said. “But that grip, its very essence means that we must keep going, that the fight must continue.”
Remaining competitive in the media industry requires constant evolution, according to Executive Vice President of Editorial, CNN U.S. and Digital Worldwide General Manager Andrew Morse.
Morse said CNN’s goal in the run up to this November’s election was to make CNN the best political coverage team — not only on TV, but across all platforms.
“We wanted to create the best political team. Period. We wanted to set ourselves up with an unprecedented team and an unprecedented focus, and let ourselves be the best again,” Morse said.
However, Morse said changes in the media landscape are not over.
“You’re never done. In an effort to be the best, in an effort to continue, you’re never done. Especially at a time like this, with a race like this. We’re experiencing a completely staggering paradigm shift in media right now, so you’re never done,” Morse said.
Summer Durant (COL ’18) performed a spoken word piece about balancing the multifaceted nature of her mixed black and Indian backgrounds.
Durant said she struggles with balancing and embracing the various aspects of her identity, which often feel like direct opposites.
“I’ve never presented as black, so I felt a lot of pressure to act black, surely perpetuating stereotypes along the way,” Durant said. “But when my Indian family asked me why I neglected our culture, I told them that it did not feel genuine to me.”
Durant said her worries about cultural appropriation are embodied by Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who claimed to be black and served as the president of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Spokane, Wash., before she was forced to resign in 2015 over questions over her race.
“She was my worst fears realized. I was not about to let her undermine everything I had worked so hard just to balance,” Durant said. “I realize now that she marked a tipping point in my life. She provoked me to write slam poetry.”
Unsung Heroes Founder Febin Bellamy (MSB ’17) said his tipping point came after his father suffered a massive stroke following his high school graduation, forcing him to refocus his priorities on others.
“I realized that it forced me to snap out of my high school mindset, to become the man for my family and to actually apply myself in school. To think about the future, not just for myself but for my mother and family,” Bellamy said.
Bellamy said his inspiration for Unsung Heroes, which seeks to spotlight workers on campus, came from late nights studying in the MSB and the lack of interaction he noticed between students and facilities workers.
“I remember seeing these workers late at night, and students would never thank or even acknowledge them,” Bellamy said. “These individuals inspired me to start Unsung Heroes, in an initiative to acknowledge and appreciate workers on college campuses.”
Bellamy invited two of the Unsung Heroes, Facilities Worker Oneil Batchelor and Facilities Worker Evans Arthur-Williams onstage with him, to acknowledge their impact on his time at Georgetown.
“These two have honestly changed my whole experience here at Georgetown,” Bellamy said.
Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor in the School of Foreign Service and senior fellow in the foreign policy studies program at Brookings Institution, said tipping points do not occur frequently enough to solve global tragedy.
Ferris said the humanitarian crisis in Syria, where world leaders have frequently called for the need to find a resolution to the fighting, highlights this problem.
“When I think of Syrian refugees, I think of a lot of almost-tipping points, where I thought things were really going to change and they really didn’t,” Ferris said.
Ferris said it is important to remember the plight of refugees when working to address humanitarian crises.
“Over and over again in my work with refugees I have felt very humble. You see the struggle and the courage of desperate people who have made it somewhere,” Ferris said. “They are survivors. They are heroes.”
Jeong Whan Park
Jeong Whan Park (SFS ’17) shared with the audience the thoughts he had leading up to his suicide attempt last spring, highlighting the danger of depression on college campuses.
“There were no extenuating circumstances to answer the question why I would try to kill myself, but that is where the danger lies,” Park said. “It can happen to anyone, anytime, for any reason.”
Park said thinking of his parents and all those in his life that would be affected by his decision inspired him to keep going.
“My life, though it may sound as if it is mine, is not my own,” Park said. “It is a big puzzle, composed of little pieces belonging to everyone who has endeared me and who, reversely, find the strength to live on through the ups and downs of their lives, with the knowledge that there are people, like me, who support and care for them.”
Amina Gerbbi (MSB ’17), who lived in Benghazi, Libya, during the Arab spring of 2011, shared how her fleeing the country resulted in both her greatest failures and greatest successes.
Gerbbi said being in a war forces one to confront questions they would never have previously considered.
“We would talk about what we would do in case we were about to be raped. Would we kill ourselves in order to avoid being raped?” Gerbbi said. “During times of war, you see things you never thought you’d see.”
Upon her return to the United States, Gerbbi struggled in school, taking both junior and senior year classes during her third year of high school. She graduated with a low GPA, having not gained acceptance to a single university to which she applied.
Gerbbi said this failure ultimately set her on her path to Georgetown, as she worked diligently to overcome her past failures.
“My tipping point caused a revolution in myself which allowed me to create a reality that would not have come into existence had I listened to society,” Gerbbi said. “And I’m here now.”
Jonah Reider, a recent Columbia graduate who started a restaurant in his dorm room, said combining food with art helped create a more engaging social experience.
“This was a dining experience that prioritized accessibility and social interaction, just as much if not more than the food itself,” Reider said. “All this dorm room cooking taught me that the satisfaction that people derive from an experience had less to do with the fanciness or quality of the food that they were eating, but rather the extent to which they could participate and engage with that process of creating and consuming.”
To Anthony Anderson (COL’18), the statistic that one in two gay and bisexual men will be diagnosed with HIV became a reality recently.
Anderson cited the fact that HIV disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men, compared to a rate of one in 48 women diagnosed annually with HIV.
“HIV is something that we can change as a community,” Anderson said. “The statistics have always been there, but I think fear really hinders people.”
Despite his fear of speaking out, Anderson said he understood the importance of sharing his story with others.
“I know this is a story that goes beyond me. This is a narrative that need to be told, not only in our community but outside our community,” Anderson said. “These numbers are already here, and they’ll continue to get higher if we do nothing about it.”
Mary Beth Bruggeman
Mary Beth Bruggeman, executive director of the southeast region for The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that helps connect veterans with service opportunities in America, advocated the need for diversity in the workplace.
Bruggeman said that as a young platoon leader and the only female in her Marine Corps cohort, she struggled to find her place amongst her fellow marines.
“I realized that many of those marines didn’t see me as a leader. They couldn’t see past the fact that I was a woman,” Bruggeman said. “In the interest of self-preservation, I started to let many pieces of myself fall away. I made myself one-dimensional. I was a marine. Not a woman marine; a marine.”
Bruggeman said this served as a tipping point to the realization that she was not living her most authentic life.
“I invite you to take a hard look at yourself and decide, like I did, to embrace a new reality. Know the truth that every organization needs diversity and authenticity not just to survive, but to thrive,” Bruggeman said. “Be bold, know who you are and have the power to let yourself shine through.”
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