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High school senior brings renowned conference series to Bow

  • From left, participants Brian Schroyer, Sunday Swett, Sheb Swett, and Mary Jo Brown talk at the front of the Bow High School auditorium following a TEDx event at the school themed, "Inspiration is knocking." Sunday Swett organized the event for her senior project at the high school.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    From left, participants Brian Schroyer, Sunday Swett, Sheb Swett, and Mary Jo Brown talk at the front of the Bow High School auditorium following a TEDx event at the school themed, "Inspiration is knocking." Sunday Swett organized the event for her senior project at the high school.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Sheb Swett, a Bow High School alum and brother of Sunday Swett, gives the final presentation during his sister's senior project at Bow High School on Saturday morning, May 11, 2013. Sunday Swett organized a TEDx event at the school themed, "Inspiration is knocking at the door." The TEDx events are independently run branches of TED talks.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Sheb Swett, a Bow High School alum and brother of Sunday Swett, gives the final presentation during his sister's senior project at Bow High School on Saturday morning, May 11, 2013. Sunday Swett organized a TEDx event at the school themed, "Inspiration is knocking at the door." The TEDx events are independently run branches of TED talks.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • From left, participants Brian Schroyer, Sunday Swett, Sheb Swett, and Mary Jo Brown talk at the front of the Bow High School auditorium following a TEDx event at the school themed, "Inspiration is knocking." Sunday Swett organized the event for her senior project at the high school.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Sheb Swett, a Bow High School alum and brother of Sunday Swett, gives the final presentation during his sister's senior project at Bow High School on Saturday morning, May 11, 2013. Sunday Swett organized a TEDx event at the school themed, "Inspiration is knocking at the door." The TEDx events are independently run branches of TED talks.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Brian Schroyer wants you to picture inspiration as a dangerous animal waiting to ambush your otherwise quaint, effortless existence.

“You live in the United States of America,” Schroyer, an art teacher in Concord, told a crowd yesterday at Bow High School. “Congratulations, you don’t have to do anything at all.”

To stay safe and successfully avoid motivation, Schroyer said, sarcastically, there are some things you can do.

“We’re born as selfish hedonists. People attend to us 24/7. It’s great,” he said, revealing to the audience a digital slide of a baby wearing a crown. “That’s a skill we all have early on, but it just drops off with age. The next time you’re feeling inspired, just think about how many of your needs aren’t being met. Are you tired? Do you need a nap? . . . Channel your inner younger self to save your older self.”

Some other tips: avoid new experiences, try not to think too much and find a profession that requires you to act as a “mindless drone.”

Schroyer’s satirical talk was just one of several heartfelt speeches delivered yesterday during a three-hour TEDx event, organized by Sunday Swett for her senior project at the school.

TEDx events are independently run offshoots of TED talks, the annual conferences that draw celebrities from various concentrations – including art, music and science – and is meant to share “ideas worth spreading.” Organizers apply to use the TED license and are tasked with doing everything to bring their event to fruition – finding a venue, securing speakers, publicizing the conference. Each talk centers on

some sort of theme.

Swett’s theme? “Inspiration is knocking.”

“Part of the reason I wanted to do this project was because, like most seniors, I’m excited for what lies ahead. But at the same time I’m very uncertain and nervous about what that will entail,” Swett said before the event. “More than anything I want to give (other students) something to work off of, the idea that there are so many possibilities open, and you need to allow yourself to try new things and experience new adventures.”

The event was the first of its kind in the capital region and featured six talks, four of which were live and two from previous TED events that were streamed online. The other live speakers were Mary Jo Brown, a graphic designer in Portsmouth and chairwoman of the New Hampshire Women’s Initiative; Niknaz Aftahi, an Iranian graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, and follower of the Baha’i faith; and Sheb Swett, a Yale Graduate and Sunday’s older brother.

Some of the talks were comical, others moving. Brown spoke about her struggle for gender equality as a high school cheerleader. Aftahi discussed fighting for religious freedom and education. One of the streamed talks recounted a battle to overcome a life-threatening illness, another showcased a young woman featured on the Oprah Winfrey show for her activism.

“When the door is closed, it’s tough,” the woman, Natalie Warne, said. “But it’s the acts, not the Oprah moments, that define us.”

Audience members seemed to enjoy the presentations.

“We’re all seniors and going off to do our own thing, so it’s interesting to have a little perspective, because right now it feels like it’s all about me,” said Caroline Trowbridge, Sunday’s friend.

Seniors at Bow develop their projects during a required semester-long English course. Principal John House-Myers, who attended the conference, described Sunday’s as “just fantastic.”

“There’s no ordinary in our senior projects,” he said. “Some have a lot more community involvement – obviously this has a lot of that, with the broader Concord area and beyond. This is definitely in that higher range of amazing.”

Sunday’s mom, Katrina Swett, said she thought the TED format was particularly apt for graduating students.

“It’s the perfect sort of senior capstone event because it’s all about seeing, ‘Here we are on the threshold, about to break out of a somewhat structured life. Are we going to be open to inspiration?’ ” she asked.

Katrina added that she was proud of the time and effort her daughter had put into the event.

“Sunday is the youngest of seven children,” she said. “She could have gone one of two ways: the way of ‘I’m the baby and I’m going to coast,’ or the route of ‘Oh, my gosh, I have six really high-achieving siblings, I’m going to outdo them all.’ She went the second way and really took on the most daunting senior project of them all.”

Sunday, who plans to attend Yale University after taking a year off, said she got the idea to organize a TEDx conference after watching other TED talks on the internet (many are available on YouTube and through the organization’s website).

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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