Inspiring the Hearts & Minds: TEDx 2015

By Allison Durham

The “hearts and minds” of Wake Forest University and surrounding community came together to celebrate the power of ideas at the fourth annual TEDxWakeForestU conference held in Wait Chapel on February 21, 2015. This successful conference, completely organized by students, was attended by over 1,500 people.  Highlights from the eight inspirational talks are below.

The Good and Growth in Quitting: Larry Merlo, the President and CEO of CVS Health, took the stage first. His purpose-driven company walked away from $2 + billion in sales last year by eliminating the sale of cigarettes from all CVS retail stores nationwide. CVS, under the mission “Helping people on their path to better health,” is driving change. Merlo asks the audience, “What’s your story going to be?” As he encourages his listeners to make decisions from the inside out and be proactive not reactive, he challenges, “Get ready to make a difference in the world around you.” Merlo ends with a final burst of confidence: “Don’t be shy about telling your story. Be bold. Be aggressive.”

Adventure is Waiting: Jennifer Pharr Davis, the 2012 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year, turned down her first job out of college to take a risk and hike the Appalachian Trail. She says, “Our society has forgotten the value of a journey.” Through the trek, Davis hoped to gain direction on and off the trail. “I learned how to be utterly lost and confused . . . [and] how to implement short and long term goals in life,” she explains. Her five month journey taught her to value simplicity, the quality of relationships and provided her with a new sense of beauty as she now bases her self-worth on what she can do rather than how she looks. Davis, who says that adventure allows the young to feel competent, inspires listeners to get out there and get going as she states, “Adventure is healthy for our hearts and minds.”

The Culture of Comparison: Bea Arthur, the owner and creator of two wellness-based businesses and a counseling practice, begins with a struggle everyone can relate to: FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). “Your happiness becomes a moving target,” Arthur explains. The culture of comparison forces you to base your own choices on others. She shines light on the power of emotions in the quest for happiness. “Where you direct your energy is where your life will go,” states Arthur. She stresses the importance of adopting a goal of alignment in overcoming the odds of a society that is full of avoidance. Alignment allows you to look ahead and see the positives while ignoring the “naysayers.” As Arthur encourages the audience to align with their purposes, she finishes on a final optimistic note: “You can have exactly the kind of life you want.”

Our Forgotten Superpower: Jennifer McCormick, a medical illustrator, challenges listeners to view life through a creative lens. McCormick uses her creativity as a kind of art therapy to bring comfort to people suffering from different ailments by turning their e-rays into beautiful works of art. She reminds the audience that they create the world around them and that they do not have to be artists to harness the benefits of creativity. McCormick credits her work for providing her with a sense of purpose by helping people.  “You may be able to see yourself and others as the spiritual beings that we are,” explains McCormick regarding the best benefit of being a mindful creator. As she inspires her viewers about their power in the world, she reminds them, “You have a choice in what you make, think about and do.”

Adapting Technology for Your Health: Andy Bowline, the CEO of N2 Medical Solutions, built his company under the mission of increasing public adherence to prescribed medications. “30% of prescriptions are never filled,” says Bowline. Moreover, as technology adapts to us and fades into the background, his goal is to adapt technology to your health. He ends his presentation with a shout out to the Wake Forest MBA program, the entrepreneurship program, and the faculty and staff for giving him the support he needed to get to where he is today.

Inside the Heart of an Olympian: Hunter Kemper, the most decorated U.S. triathlete in history and 1998 Wake Forest graduate, humbly believes Wake is the finest institution in the U.S.  He challenges the audience to ponder: “Ultimately, what drives your heart?” Kemper upholds, “When you’re heart-driven, you can overcome obstacles you never thought possible.” It is all about passion. What is Kemper passionate about? He says that he is heart-driven in two ways: Through his love in getting youths active in the sport of triathlon and giving back to those in need. He is passionate about the Pinky Swear Foundation in which kids race for kids and asks, “What are we living for? What are our gifts and talents?” Kemper ends his heart-touching talk with some final inspiration: “Make a decision today to live life differently; live it heart-driven and with a purpose.”

Rethinking Sex: Al Vernacchio, a human sexuality educator and consultant, believes it is crucial that we learn how to deal with sexuality in a healthy way. By viewing sex as a social justice issue, Vernacchio says that sex needs to be redefined. He published the book For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens about Sexuality, Values, and Health and firmly states, “Our bodies and sexuality impact who we are in the world.”

100 Plus: The Coming Age of Longevity: Sonia Arrison, a best-selling author and analyst, wraps up the conference with an eye-opening lesson in human longevity. Arrison says that humans are based on a code and biology has become an engineering project. Scientists now have the ability to see which genes are connected to diseases and personalize medications. Arrison notes that innovation peaks at around 40 years old. So do not let your creativity go to waste! She stresses the importance of not being complacent: It is time to push the agenda of the health revolution to increase the average lifespan. Arrison reminds her audience, “Nothing ever happens on its own. You need to put effort into it.”

After eight motivational talks, onlookers left the conference with a newfound sense of purpose, as they were encouraged to challenge their hearts and minds and make a difference in the world.

The 2015 TEDxWakeForestU conference was organized by the following students:
John Marbach ('15), Executive Director
Alexis Tsavoussis ('15), Director of Programming
Katie Franklin ('15), Director of Publicity
Carl Turner ('17), Director of Logistics
Austin Evers ('16), Public Relations
Christina Baddar ('15), Marketing
Phillipp Wendler ('18), Volunteer Coordinator