In keeping with the national news narrative that high school students can affect huge change, a team of local students took it upon themselves to show that South Valley teens are no different. On Saturday morning at the Gilroy High School Theater, six local students, along with a host of volunteers, organized “Be The Change” a TEDx Youth event which featured nine speakers, including several from area high schools.
“It took six months of work, but this was the best team I could have hoped for,” said event Organizer Pranavi Kethanaboyina. “We met a lot of students who wanted to see young people here grow and take the initiative in their own lives.”
Organizing the TEDx event was difficult, but so was the application process for the speakers. Organizers, Lucas Bundros, Andrea Levan, Jordan Bedell, Ryan Rivera, Tasia McConkie and Kethanaboyina, chose nine speakers from a field of over 30 applicants.
“I saw an ad on Instagram, and I thought, why not apply,” said San Benito High School senior Andres Medina. “I got an email the next day letting me know I earned an interview.”
Like the Parkland teens who organized the March For Our Lives movement, the event’s theme “Be The Change” focused on what young people can do to make a significant impact on the world.
“I really support them, and it’s motivating and empowering to see people my age do things like this,” Medina said. “We always see adults on the news, but we saw that during the civil rights era that students led some of the biggest change and that’s why I wanted to get involved.” Hayden Jungling, a senior at Christopher High School, found out about the TEDx event on Snapchat. After his application was accepted, he practiced his speech at least twice a day in preparation. While writing may have come natural to the aspiring Political Science student, he still needed to overcome nervousness as the day approached.
“I was very nervous, but I couldn’t let my fear get in the way,” Jungling said.
Like Medina, Jungling found some inspiration from the Parkland students, even if his personal opinions on firearms do not align with many of theirs.
“I think it’s great that they’re expressing their opinions,” Jungling said. “I don’t always agree with them about guns, but I’m happy that they can use their freedom of speech to make the world a better place with their viewpoint.”
“I think now more than ever is the time for youth to take action and get involved,” Kethanaboyina said about the March For Our Lives movement. “They played a role in inspiring me when we were going through some of the hardest parts of organizing this. It gave me hope and energy to keep going forward. People are starting to understand that youth, especially in Gilroy, are willing to get involved and make the community an amazing place.”
Gilroy Chamber of Commerce President Mark Turner served as the official adult mentor, but that didn’t stop him from making his own TED TALK presentation. In “Six Words That Can Change the Direction and Destination in Life,” Turner recalled some of the lessons he learned as a young adult which helped him to succeed in life, including, mowing lawns as a kid, getting fired, and the importance of a good attitude at work.
“Mr. Turner was amazing,” Kethanaboyina said. “He was a great mentor when we needed him, but he also knew when to step back and let us be the drivers of the event. He gave us that flexibility.”
Christopher High senior Iseph Dela Merced served as the events Master of Ceremony and his combination of humor and cheer served as a natural transition between speakers.