Park City students shine at TEDxYouthParkCity
Nayely Velazquez auditioned to speak at TEDxYouthParkCity only about a week before it was held.
But on May 4, she stood on stage at the Eccles Center, completely composed, and delivered a personal story that cut to the heart of what it’s like to be a Latino student in Park City. She spoke with clarity and emphasis. Her message resonated throughout the large auditorium.
"I just kind of assumed — and I was actually right — that there were no other Latino representatives that were going to be up here," she said afterward. "And even if there were, nobody is discussing this — stereotypes, racism, discrimination in Park City. Me being the loud, opinionated person that I am, I was like, ‘I’m going to do this and going to talk about this.’"
Velazquez was one of 16 students — most from Park City High School or Treasure Mountain Junior High — who gave a talk at the TEDxYouthParkCity event, put on annually by the Park City Institute to give students a chance to make their voices heard on issues they’re passionate about.
Antoinette Gentempo, from TMJH, did not have to think long about what she wanted her talk to be about. She spoke about what it’s like to be dyslexic in a world full of people who can’t fathom struggling to read. She hopes that her message will inspire other students who share her experience.
"My whole life, there have always been things that have held me back from doing the things that I truly wanted to do," she said. "I really want to help the kids like me feel like they are heard and understood, and I really want to help them be themselves and not to be the fake definition of normal."
Moe Hickey, managing director of the Institute, said it was incredible to watch the kids perform. Hickey and other representatives from the Institute had spent the previous few weeks working with the students, coaching them about how to get the most impact out of their talks. Many of the students had never spoken publically before, but they emerged May 4 confident, eager to share their passions.
"Their willingness to be coached and the effort they put into it was amazing," Hickey said. "Every day, they’d leave with some tips, and the next day they’d come back and you knew that they’d actually practiced. They’d rehearsed it. The word we kept using was they took ownership of their talks."
Watching the students speak about topics that were deeply personal was the best part for Hickey. He held his breath as Velazquez delivered her speech and said Gentempo’s talk "should be shown in a lot of places." All the students, he said, were courageous.
"Regardless of the topic, the kids felt they had something to say," he said. "That part to me was fun, to see these kids have something that they cared about, whether it was plastic bottles, fish in the ocean, being Jamaican and having to acclimate to Park City. And these are, for the most part, 14- to 17-year-olds."
For Velazquez, speaking about such a personal topic was not easy. She hoped the audience would see that she was trying to bring light to an important issue and help begin bridging the divide. But she was uncertain how a room full of mostly white people would receive her message.
"I had a couple of friends who left their class to come watch me, so just knowing they were out there and rooting for me really helped," she said. "I felt like I had a lot of support, but it was still difficult because I didn’t know a lot of people in the audience."
She walked off stage to impassioned applause.
Hickey was among those cheering the hardest. He said the event reinforces everything he believes about education.
"You give a student an opportunity, or you give them a platform, no matter what that platform is — as a writer, as an artist, as a speaker — and you see that they care about it," he said. "That’s all the ingredients to education. They realize they might fail, but they don’t care about that. They want to do it."
To learn more about the event, and see videos of the talks, which will be posted in the coming weeks, visit tedxparkcity.org.
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.