On January 21, the second TEDxNatick opened at Natick High School in front of a packed auditorium. Co-curators Rosemary Driscoll and Steve Gullans greeted the audience with a summary of what to expect. “TEDxNatick is a local event,” Gullans stated. “You are now all TEDsters.” Driscoll thanked the corporate supporters of TEDxNatick, starting with MathWorks as lead sponsor.
Henry Lewis of Natick, a student at the Rivers School, started the event with a piano jazz medley.
Kathleen Tullie, the first speaker, delivered a message both cautionary and hopeful. “Physical activity has been engineered out of our daily lives,” noted the founder of BOKS kids (Build Our Kids’ Success). She described how the “pandemic” of inactivity leads to problems from obesity to mental health, and her quest to bring physical activity back to schools. Her BOKS kids program grew from one school in Natick to over 2000 schools, including several in other countries.
Bill Littlefield, the well-known host of WBUR’s “Only A Game” then commented that the very reason he participated was because events like this are “life affirming.” He shared through stories and poetry (though he calls it doggerel) his lifelong admiration for Willie Mays.
Maeve Sheehy, a student at Natick High School, described her struggle with narcolepsy with clear-eyed realism and humor. She observed that her parents even found a silver lining. “They liked that I slept through my moody teenage stage,” she said, to widespread laughter. Sheehy described how she “had to step up and take responsibility” for her condition, and how her own research not only led to diagnosis but also helped her find a community that shared her experiences. An audience member, after the ovation Sheehy received, noted, “she nailed it.”
Neuroscientist Rudy Tanzi took the stage. Alzheimer’s is “a quiet thief in the night,” he declared. He presented his belief that the disease should be treated like other diseases, with early prediction, early detection, and early prevention. He then introduced a surprise guest, the well-known recording artist and actor Chris Mann, who, with Tanzi on keyboards, sang a moving rendition of Remember Me, their anthem for victims of Alzheimer’s disease.
Chris Mann sings "Remember Me"
Bren Bataclan started his talk with a simple observation. “I have a great job. I make people smile.” Bataclan, a Cambridge based artist, has built an international following for his work. Part of his mission is to give his work away with the sentiment of “This painting is yours if you promise to smile at random people more often.” His work, which he presents as “found art” has been given away in all fifty states and many other countries. He shared inspirational stories of the positive impact that his work has had on many people, and emphasized that this impact is the reason for what he does. “Kindness,” he said, “can truly be paid forward.”
Jamele Adams of Natick didn’t just take the stage, he took charge of it. He delivered an energetic rap, and then stopped to survey the audience. “The more digital we become,” he said, “the more impersonal we are!” He delivered an inspirational talk on unity and community circling around the acronym “LIT” or Love, Inclusion, and Trust. His words more than once brought enthusiastic audience participation.
Walnut Hill School student Hexue Li opened the afternoon session with a flawless piano performance of L’isle Joyeuse by Claude Debussy.
Ned Brooks then walked onstage to talk about the power of gifts to make a positive impact on both the donor (saving a life), and the giver (bringing happiness). This topic was all the more dramatic because the gift under discussion required surgery.
Monika Weber spoke of her invention, and the company she built to make a small device to detect bacteria in a revolutionary way. Her invention dramatically reduces the traditional 24-hour laboratory process, and because of this offers a significant health benefit for food and water testing, and in many other areas.
Sheldon Mirowitz, a composer for films, invited the audience to consider the role that music plays not just in film, but also in other areas of life. “Music helps to reveal the world to us in all its fullness,” he said. “It finds the inner meaning and poetry.”
Brain scientist and physicist Caterina Stamoulis delivered a talk at once clinical and universal to describe her research of the infant brain. She discussed how understanding how the brain works early in life, and finding a “blueprint,” promises to enable future understanding of cognitive challenges. One step on this quest is mapping the brain's blueprint of emotional responses to human faces. Few will disagree with her parting advice on interacting with infants; “keep smiling at them!”
Professor of Architecture Alan Plattus introduced the audience to the concept of resilience in the context of how cities prepare for climate change, specifically in the area of coastal flooding. “We can’t ‘punish the bad water’ by blocking it away,” he said. He argues that we must instead adapt to the new reality and “prepare and plan” for the inevitable floods to come.
To close out the day, attorney Adam Foss took the stage to remind the audience of events taking place at that very moment outside the auditorium, as the Women’s March was in progress in cities across the country. “It is time for a new civil rights movement,” he said. He added that waiting for the next “Rosa Parks” or next “Malcolm” is not productive. Instead, he told listeners to “stop waiting,” because “the new leaders are in this room. Each one of you can do something.”
Videos of the talks from TEDxNatick 2017 will be made available soon. For information go to www.tedxnatick.org.
By Tod Dimmick
Photographs by Renee Bender-Cohn