Elizabeth Bastian/MJ
Elizabeth Bastian/MJ

By ELIZABETH BASTIAN, Managing Editor

This past Friday, I attended an absolutely incredible event that left me mentally and emotionally overwhelmed, physically shaking, and inspired beyond words.

For those of you familiar with TED talks, the online series of lectures taped at conferences all over the world, you have probably heard of TEDx. In contrast to the TED talks, these lectures are independently organized events that can happen anywhere there is a passionate group of volunteers and speakers who are willing to share their “ideas worth spreading.”

TEDxUofM in Ann Arbor began in 2010, but I had never attended it until this year. As someone who subscribes to the TED podcasts on iTunes and will vouch for the talks’ educational value to anyone who will listen, I knew that I had to be at this event. As the day of the conference creeped closer, and more and more e-mails rolled into my inbox describing the speakers and topics, my excitement and interest only grew.

But nothing could have prepared me for the feeling I had when I left at the end of the day.

After sitting for hours in an auditorium with a couple close friends and over 1,300 other members of the Michigan community and listening to the incredible stories of students, alumni, and faculty, I was deeply moved. How could you not be, after hearing a social worker who was incarcerated for over 26 years describe the prison culture in America? Or an athletic trainer who taught paralyzed men to walk again (and then to have those men come out on stage…there was not a dry eye in the house)? Or a business student who started his own food cart on campus before being riddled with self-doubt about the legacy he was leaving?

These tales of ordinary people tapping into their creative potential to make great things happen resonated deeply within me. But it was not just me who was affected, not just me who was holding back the tears. There were over a thousand people in that room whose minds were also racing, whose heart strings were also being pulled. There was the most amazing feeling of collective emotion in that room that was so powerful, I was physically affected by it. My hands were shaking, my teeth were chattering; all because of the energy generated by 1,350 visionaries who were spreading their ideas. Because of the possibilities all of us were picturing for tomorrow. Because of the imagined dreams and hopes that we, together, were going to transform into realities.

It was then that I realized that this is not the first time I have felt like this. No; when one is involved in active campus organizations, or taking courses with invested classmates taught by passionate professors, that same energy seems to surface. It was then that I realized the uniqueness of this feeling to a campus-like environment – of a place where researchers, thinkers, doers, and dreamers from all walks of life, from all disciplines, can come together and share their ideas. They can make changes. They can inspire, and lead.

My next thought was a bit more probing: how can we maintain a hold on this energy, on this motivating type of environment, after we graduate and move on into the “real world?”

Because that’s kind of a scary thought to me, you know? I mean, I have all these ideas, these lofty life goals and hopes for myself, that I hope to someday achieve; but what if I lose those?  What if I get so swept up in work, and the mundane daily repetition some call being an adult, that I forget about helping those around me? What if I, God forbid, stop learning something new everyday, because those around me have long given up on unleashing their potential? What if I lose sight of the things and the people that inspire me, and in the process lose some of myself?

If I don’t have people around me who seek to make a difference and who create that wonderful aura of collective action…will I ever tap into that energy again?

This is where platforms like TED can come in – a relaxed, casual place where ordinary people can share their stories and informally educate those around them. If you want to continue to be inspired, to be revitalized and reminded of why you do what you do, I believe that you have got to do two things: talk. And then: listen. This can be done at a coffeehouse, in the gym, at the park, at church, even in a neighbor’s basement. All that is required is a group of open-minded individuals. Talk to those around you who also have great ideas, those who are also hungry for knowledge and have a passion they care about. Listen to what they have to say; then share your own passion.

While I have learned extraordinary things in my past three years of undergraduate study in readings, lectures, and textbooks, I would not trade the informal aspect of my education for anything. The discussions I have had with fellow classmates, the people I have met through student organizations who are driven to pursue their goals, the office hours spent with professors describing their personal life histories…these are the things that have taught me so much, that continue to inspire me and to keep me going. They energize me. They give me hope for the future that they are sculpting, and of the one I someday hope to create.

I don’t want look in the mirror in 25 years and be someone that my current 20 year old self wouldn’t recognize; or worse, someone that I would despise. I don’t want to lose sight of the passions and the ideas of how I want my life to be that I now have.

Do you? Does anyone?

Find that energy on campus, in your community group, in your real or imagined family circle. Keep that light of passion burning after graduation and leaving campus. Just try, try to stay golden.

If for no one else, do it for Johnny.

1 COMMENT

  1. There are lots of passionate people in the real world, often quietly doing great things, both big and small. Keep watching and listening. You will see it all around you… the manager at Caribou who always has time for the patron with the walker, the co-worker who picks up some of your extra work, the people who donate time and money to causes.. often wanting to remain anonymous. Something as small as letting someone merge ahead of you while driving can change the tenor of someone’s day.

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