By Lauren Davis Baker for The Bulletin Special Projects
In the afternoon of March 31, 2018, Daniel Wendler broke our hearts from the TEDxBend stage and put them back together again, earning a standing ovation.
“Loneliness is a struggle that we all share,” he said.
As a child, Asperger’s syndrome made it difficult for Wendler to read social nuances and connect with people. Other kids ran from him or, worse yet, punched him in the stomach. The rejection was devastating.
“I assumed it was my fault,” he said.
Over time, Wendler came to realize that loneliness is a universal experience.
“We’ve all had pain,” he said. “My struggle isn’t autistic—it’s human.”
Speaking clearly and simply, Wendler united the audience, asking, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt you didn’t belong . . . were afraid someone you loved would leave you . . . felt lonely in a group.”
Hands were raised, heads nodded, and at least a few eyes twinkled with tears, acknowledging isolation and loneliness.
“We all need each other to create belonging,” Wendler said. “It’s never too late. We can reach out to each other, heal through friendship, and give one another hope.”
As the audience of 1,200 people rose to their feet to applaud, Wendler smiled and put his hand to his heart—looking both overwhelmed and delighted.
So began TEDxBend 2018, a nonpartisan festival of ideas presented in short-format talks, exceeding expectations as it drew a crowd of students, parents, professionals, and retirees together in a sense of shared experience.
The effect was no accident. Thousands of hours of planning, organization, and coaching, orchestrated by head organizer Moe Carrick and her largely volunteer organizing committee, carefully crafted the event to be memorable, meaningful, and challenging to the Central Oregon community.
Throughout the day, Carrick acted as a warm and welcoming master of ceremonies, weaving a theme of community and connection as she acknowledged the sponsors and the more than 100 volunteers who made the day possible.
Setting the show in motion, Carrick emphasized,“Some topics will be controversial. Some may be troubling. And it’s okay to disagree.”
Indeed, TEDxBend intentionally moved beyond inspiring to include subjects meant to stimulate conversation, dialogue, and controversy. Topics included handling grief as a community, antibiotic resistance, concerns with the conservation of precious species and populations, the unintended damage vacations can cause, and the pros and cons of block chain technology.
The event’s three musical performances were equally diverse, showcasing Bend Camerata’s vocal chamber ensemble, folk rock from the Eugene-based Temple Under the Stars, and rap artistry by Aisha Fukushima.
To select material for the event, Carrick and her team reviewed 85 applications from aspiring presenters. Carrick also personally encouraged several speakers to throw their hats into the ring.
“We are looking for issues that are facing the community,” Carrick said. “Speakers who are ready and relevant. New ideas and old ideas with a twist—a diversity of topics.”
Therapist Hillary Hurst was among those Carrick personally invited.
“We wanted a local voice to discuss suicide,” Carrick said. “It’s a community issue.”
The audience was riveted as Hurst walked onstage, slowly beating a traditional Native drum.
“Breathe with me,” she invited.
To the soft beat of the drum, Hurst chanted, “Someone is committing suicide . . . someone is being bullied . . . someone lost a loved one . . . someone is afraid to go to school . . . Grief is stirring.
“What if loss could be held in ceremony?” she asked. “Witnessed. Supported. Given back? We are not alone. We can be shouldering experiences together.”
With Hurst’s prompting, the audience raised their voices in song, the lyrics affirming the importance of how we live our lives.
As with every presenter, Hurst worked for months with a coach from Joanne Mathews’s team of communications and public speaking pros, developing the message and delivery of her presentation.
“Developing that sense of authenticity takes hard work and truly listening to what’s important to the speaker,” Mathews said. “It’s a labor of love.”
The team purposefully included presenters who weren’t professional public speakers and presentations that weren’t necessarily easy to digest—such as Kyleanne Hunter’s presentation on gun violence. Hunter had originally been scheduled to address the role women play in the military and the power of positive integration. However, after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, Carrick asked the former Marine if she would speak about gun violence.
“She’s an expert in the field,” Carrick said.
Hunter, a former Bend resident who now lives in Colorado, agreed to rework her talk just one month prior to the TEDx event.
“It’s the talk I was meant to give,” she said. “It combines my personal experience, passion, and professional expertise.”
Hunter’s presentation was so powerful, it came with a warning: “The sounds and images in the talk could be disturbing to some listeners and may not be appropriate for children.”
“This presentation will include audio of gunfire from the Parkland, Florida shooting,” Carrick said, advising the audience that if they wished to leave the theater, they would be cheerfully and respectfully welcomed back later in the day.
A murmur rippled through the crowd.
After this sobering introduction, Hunter broke the ice with a joke. “I’m sure you’re aware that gun violence is an uncontentious topic and no one has any opinions about it,” she said.
The audience laughed, relieved to break the tension.
Hunter shared fond memories of skeet shooting with her father and hunting deer.
“Guns have taught me a lot of lessons,” she said.
She later joined the Marines, where she became a rifle and pistol expert. Her knowledge of and respect for guns was evident as she recapped the history of the United States military’s use of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
“The AR-15 evokes emotion on both sides of the debate,” she said. “It is a near-perfect weapon of war. However, it’s an ill- suited hunting rifle in that it destroys animals. It’s also bad for home defense, in that the bullets travel so far . . . going through walls.”
Hunter played an audio track of a Marine gun battle in Iraq. The sounds of battle were disturbing—but nothing compared to the audio played from Parkland. The rapid gunfire and screaming of children can only be described as horrific.
“I went into combat to ensure that Americans can live freely,” Hunter said. “Having weapons of war on our streets and active shooter drills in schools is not part of that.”
Shaken, the audience rose to their feet to applaud a message that was difficult to hear but clearly took courage to deliver. Thankfully, Carrick and her team had allowed for a break. Many in the Bend High School auditorium needed it.
The event resumed with a musical performance. The gorgeous harmonies of Bend’s premier vocal ensemble, Bend Camerata, acted as an emotional oasis after Hunter’s powerful presentation.
The fusion of entertainment and thought-provoking ideas made TEDxBend 2018 a truly memorable, at times mind-boggling, experience. It’s no wonder that TEDxBend is one of the largest TEDx productions in the nation, with a reputation for excellence.
“TEDxBend is known for the high quality of the production team. Which has helped our speakers to get picked up by Ted.com, where views can jump into the millions,” said Scott Douglass, volunteer organizer and owner of Cascade Relays.
In fact, three TEDxBend presenters have been picked up by Ted.com, which helps to draw high-quality presenters from around the world.
“The community of Bend benefits from that,” Douglass said. “We’re not just a regional event.”
In addition, keeping the event affordable is part of the TEDx Bend mission. In accordance with the terms of the TED organization, TEDxBend is run as a locally organized nonprofit, with any proceeds being used to fund future events.
“There’s a huge push to make it accessible to the community and sustainable,” said head marketer Mei Ratz. “Attending TEDxBend is totally reasonable.”
“You walk away with an amazing experience—inspired,” Douglass said. “It’s a very high value event, underpriced.”
This year, more than 600 scholarship tickets were offered to local youth, with discounts for students and young professionals, plus reduced rates for nonprofit and business bulk purchases. There were also more than 20 giveaway tickets, to encourage people to attend.
Sponsorships and volunteers were an important part of keeping costs down.
“This event is a reflection of our community,” said Mathews. “Community organizers, community volunteers, and all the program decisions driven by what would be of most interest to our community. We are on a mission to encourage curiosity and dialogue about important stuff.”
With events such as TEDx, Bend is evolving beyond a resort destination known for great skiing, mountain biking, and beer. TEDx is helping to mold Bend into an even more engaging community, one that nurtures entrepreneurs, scientists, and artists—as well as those simply grateful to think outside the box.
To get a taste of TEDxBend without waiting a full year for the next big event, check out their monthly salons. These short and sweet events last just a few hours, focusing on a single subject. May’s topic is Parenting: The Complex Mess. For more information, visit TEDxBend.com or join their Facebook page.