TEDx speakers recognize importance of building connections

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A musician, former foster kid, future astronomer, Hurricane Katrina survivor, journalist and World War II Medal of Honor recipient taught an audience about building connections during the TEDxMarshallU event Saturday.

“We decided to make it (the theme) bridges because as our talks were being created, they were becoming more centered on connection,” said Hannah Petracca, a Marshall University student and one of the hosts of the event. “It is all about being and building the bridge and connecting two really different or hard to imagine subjects.”

Starting off the speakers by performing “old-time music” with her band, Edna Meisel discussed how music has been a part of her life since she was child, and she said she grew up learning about Appalachian music. Meisel is an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the Marshall Graduate College, and she said she hopes she and her band, Stony Point String Band, can help keep traditional Appalachian music alive.

MU research librarian Sabrina Thomas spoke of the bridge between her and her past as a foster care child. Thomas said there has been negative connotations with those who have been in the foster care system, but she believes it is important to provide those children with the resources they need to survive.

Marshall sophomore and physics major Ellie White spoke about not just her connection with a former mentor that helped guide her future to study astronomy, but also the connections between every person and every thing in the universe. White said making connections with people is essential.

“So for me, the most fundamental bridges we can have are bridges between people,” she said. “I think that’s really what all of this is about, how we strengthen and foster the bridges between each of us. You know, understanding our worth, how we relate to each other and making sure we put effort into showing others that we care.”

Jennifer Wells, the executive director of Our Future West Virginia, spoke of how her family suffering through Hurricane Katrina led to her building a connection with West Virginia as her new home. She said people do not always realize how they are connected.

“We’re all connected in some way,” Wells said. “Maybe it’s even in ways that we haven’t even thought of though. And I think those conversations start from here.”

She also said the TEDxMarshallU event reminded her that asking others for help, and building relationships with those people, can allow her job as a social worker to help more people.

“I talk about policy, but if I’m not talking through every aspect of what a solution looks like, even including the science aspect of it, are we really looking for the solution?” she said.

Trey Kay, a radio journalist and host of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s “Us & Them,” followed Wells talking to the audience about how people can build connections with each other even if they do not agree with one another. Using his own connection to a woman from his hometown who has different ideals than him, Alice Moore, Kay said people can learn from each other as long as they listen and communicate.

“My relationship with Alice is a gift. She gives me a chance to put a face on the “other” America,” he said. “We live in extremely polarizing times, and I think it’s important to reach across the divide.”

Kay referenced a quote to explain what he thinks the current status of conversations in the United States and being disagreeable does not lead to progress.

“Protesters said, ‘We can disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable,” he said. “I think now, in many ways, not only do we disagree, but we are also disagreeable.”

The final speaker for the event was WWII Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams. Williams spoke of his time serving in the Marines during the Battle of Iwo Jima. His discussion consisted of how his connection with his division still lives with him today.

“I am privileged to wear this medal (the Medal of Honor) because others, two marines, sacrificed their lives to save mine,” he said. “Imagine a world without the armed forces. Imagine this city without police. The individuals in these services are essential to survival. Let us never forget that we are free because of others that sacrificed.”

Petracca said even with the variety of topics focused on different types of bridges and connections people have, it led to a common word in the speeches, one which she would also use to describe the TEDxMarshallU event itself.

“It’s funny because a lot of our talks talk about resilience, and that is the first word that came to my mind for this event,” she said. “We continued this event in the midst of worldly chaos. So I hope the Marshall community has learned, time and time again throughout history, is that we are resilient.”

Petracca also said the TEDxMarshallU event is expected to be an annual event with a new theme each year.

Sarah Ingram can be contacted at [email protected].