TEDxUF: A Recap of the Day

Giancarlo Tejeda, was one of the nine speakers who told their stories to a crowd of more than 300 people at the ninth-annual TEDxUF event, which happened last Saturday at the Hippodrome Theater in downtown Gainesville.

Tejeda doesn’t know what will come first — his graduation from UF as a biomedical engineering major or the expiration of his Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program permit.

Tejeda wasn’t even aware of his undocumented status until the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) came into the national spotlight in 2007 and ultimately didn’t pass.

When President Barack Obama implemented Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in 2012, Tejeda was relieved. But this relief was not permanent.

In 2017 President Donald J. Trump signed a bill that revoked Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program, and with it he revoked 2 million dreamers’ memberships. Tejada’s DACA is currently set to expire Feb. 2, 2019, and does not know what will happen afterwards.

“I’m unsure if I’ll even be able to make it to graduation,” said Tejeda. “But that only drives me to work harder now, to fight, and reach as many people as possible with my story.”

The independently organized event is modeled after the annual TED conference in Vancouver, Canada, devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

Speakers are chosen after being nominated. UF senior Valeria Hernandez was nominated to speak about mental health after she started a suicide awareness campaign at UF in September. 

Hernandez shared her own experience with mental health and the expectations that come with being an honor student.

Hernandez also shared that she recently found out she will be inducted into the UF Hall of Fame, an honor few select seniors and graduate students are bestowed when they have improved UF in some unique way during their time as a student. The senior created the Mental Health Advocacy Task Force on campus after a suicide attempt in December 2015.

Although passionate about the subject and spreading awareness, Hernandez had a fear of public speaking before TEDxUF and recalls feeling inspired by the other speakers to overcome this.

“I think that there’s beauty in authenticity and vulnerability, and I think all the speakers demonstrated that,” said Hernandez. “Being able to witness them be vulnerable and transparent with their big ideas encouraged me to be vulnerable and authentic, and I think that’s such a beautiful thing to have, especially in terms of human connection.”

The event’s theme was expectations, a topic that was decided after the speakers wrote their talks as an effort to tie them all together said Hernandez.

Local change-maker, Gretchen Casey, spoke of her resilience and advocacy for sexual assault. Casey created unshame.org, a site dedicated to helping connect victims of rape with a supportive community through messages of hope and compassion, and led a local ‘Me Too’ movement in Gainesville. When Casey was only 23, she experienced exactly what she advocates for firsthand, when a man broke into her apartment. “One moment I was asleep.  The next moment, I was tied up, blindfolded, gagged, and raped at knifepoint,” said Casey. “While this was occurring, the only thing that mattered was living beyond that moment. The attacker in my case was charged with 4 counts of sexual battery involving 4 victims:  2 other women, a young man, and me.”

Casey said the man went to jail, but it just wasn’t enough.

She argued that the system’s corruption does very little for not only the victim, but the perpetrator as well, with some chilling statistics. She said that of every 1000 rapes 80-90% involve people who know one another, ultimately influencing whether a rape survivor ever discloses out of fear. Additionally, for every 1,000 rapes, on average only 310 are reported to police. Less than 60 rapes result in an arrest. 7 cases will lead to a felony conviction. A prison sentence occurs in 6 cases.

Casey then proceeded to ask the crowd, “How many of the 1000 cases did the criminal justice system address accountability? Or increase safety?”

Casey argued that “restorative justice,” though controversial, is an alternative to face part of the issue head on. Through restorative justice, the perpetrators are “asked to face and acknowledge the life-altering trauma they are responsible for: the sense of violation, the loss of trust & safety, the stigma of shame.”

Casey passionately spoke about the issue, and said that restorative justice removes the disconnect that comes with sexual assault, and makes everyone address the issue that so often goes unnoticed.

Throughout the event, there were performances in between speakers, including a spoken word by Canes On Da Mic, a poetry club at Gainesville High School.

“We speak out our differences to better someone else’s life,” said Johnnie Ellis, one of the club members who spoke at the event. “It was a great fit with the theme.”

Ellis said speaking at the event was a dream for him.

“I got to read my poetry and show people how we live,” said Ellis. “We have the power to change lives.”

The human connection that Hernandez spoke about resonated with audience members like UF senior Angela Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said she always wanted to come to the event, and felt like she had to because it was her last year.

“As a psychology major, there was a lot said about mental health that stuck out to me,” said Rodriguez. “It really is true how all the portrayals in the media surrounding mental health have been negative and misleading.”

Overall the whole event seemed to have a life-changing effect on the crowd and speakers alike.