Dylan Wang

Sophomore, Biology major

tedEarly morning, March 21st, and the parking lot was packed from the start. UF students and visitors alike munched on breakfast and ogled at the inventions in TEDxLab before the auditorium doors opened for the main event. TED Crew member and 3rd year Journalism major, Erin Peace, though both swarmed by visitors and people to advise, managed to tell me about her experience on staff. “I think everyone has a TED talk in them,” said Peace. “Some people are speakers, but all TED talks require coaching. Telling a story in a ‘TED talk’ format makes even the most complicated sciences sound fun.” Even getting a ticket was competitive! Over 3,000 applicants vied for a TEDxUF ticket, but only 1,500 of them were able to claim their badges that morning. Regardless, it was worth the wait.

With only a few minutes left to the start of the conference, the energy was palpable. After the lights dimmed and the video preview played, MCs Tiphanie Raffegeau and Sean Treiser welcomed the audience. The theme of the conference? “Break Through.”

Session 1

Jill Sonke – Why Medicine Needs Art (University of Florida Center for Arts in Medicine and Assistant Director of the UF Health Shands Arts in Medicine program)

One of Sonke’s friends, Burtis, has sickle cell disease and Sonke would dance with her during her hospital visits, inspiring Sonke to start various singing and dancing programs for patients. Burtis said that “[The pain] is still there but I don’t care because [dancing] feels so good.” Sonke encouraged patients to “Break Through” and express themselves through arts in medicine instead of lying bedridden and on medication.

Vivian Filer – Lessons From My Sidewalk (Storyteller and Gainesville Gem)

Filer, later a pioneer against racism, as a child used to face harassment on her daily walk past a white family’s house, until one day she challenged her tormentors and reused to get off the sidewalk. She continued to stand her ground in her movements with the Gainesville Women for Equal Rights, despite facing racism and sexism. Filer “Broke Through “by standing her ground on her sidewalk and invited the audience to “walk together with her on the great American sidewalk and make the world a better place.”

Dr. Michael Morris – Changing the World One Venture at a Time (Academic Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation)

Morris explained that, while the unreasonable person adapts the world to himself or herself, the reasonable person adapts himself or herself to the world. He reminded the audience that “1. Anyone can do it. 2. It’s a process, and 3. You have to be in the arena.” In his visits to Africa, Morris helps aspiring venturists “Break Through” and meet their dreams through their inventions.

Rob Castelluci – A Brave New Salsa Dancing World (Founder of Roomsync)

After his salsa dancing instructor broke up with him, Castelluci never wanted to dance again. In a few weeks, though, he realized salsa dancing gave him life.  “Salsa is a conversation,” said Castelluci, “At first you don’t know how to put a sentence together.” Through salsa, Castelluci learned how to communicate and treat his dance partner, and now wife after a moving TEDx, on-stage proposal, as a person with care and respect.


While watching members of The Hip Hop Collective, audience members raved about the talks they just saw.  Second year Computer Engineering major, Jason Hsu, was inspired by Sonke’s talk. “She showed us how we can progress in our lives and need medicine in art.” Another audience member, Samuel Cockey, a Junior at Eastside High School, was impressed by Filer’s eloquence. “She spoke very well. It was material that we learned already in history classes but she gave a unique perspective on it.”

Session 2

Mac Stone – Everglades: America’s Wetland (Conservation Photographer)

A nature photographer, Stone advocates for the Everglades and its assorted creatures (especially the birds). Stone reminded us that it is our job as citizens to make sure the officials in our government protect the wilderness, “All it takes is for you to go outside.”

Dr. Juan Gilbert – To Start Voting, Say Vote! (Computer Scientist and Inventor)

Gilbert’s project, “Prime III,” aims to improve the electronic voting system and provide access for people with disabilities. The “Break Through” moment for Gilbert came from a student’s revelation: “We should be fixing things, not breaking and telling people what not to do.” One comment, and Gilbert sparked a voting revolution.

Dr. Chris Hass – Empowering the Fight Against Parkinson’s: One Step at a Time (Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Physiology and Kinesiology)

Though medication can alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s, there are always harmful side effects. Hass realized that being active and exercising helps patients gain mobility. In fact, sometimes just repositioning the body when walking makes the process much easier for Parkinson’s patients. Hass encouraged his patients to “Break Through” with the determination to not just “be a person with Parkinson’s,” but rather a “participant against the fight to regain mobility.”

Ann Christiano – The Accelerant on the Fire of Change (Frank and Betsy Karel Endowed Chair in Public Interest Communications)

Ann Christiano wants to inspire the next generation of public interest communicators. Communicating with the right people conquered segregation in the South and struck a huge blow against censorship in the United States, among countless other triumphs for public wellbeing.. A successful change, a successful “Break Through,” requires strategy and contact with the right people. .

In a nutshell, the TEDxUF 2015 conference was phenomenal. Every event was both well-organized and flowed well. There wasn’t a boring moment and each talk connected to each other with the central theme of “Break Through.” In between the talks, the MCs showed a live stream of a group of art students creating a painting based on the content of the talks. Everyone has a “Break Through” moment in them waiting to happen, but as seen with all the talks, it requires initiative to find that moment.