Photos courtesy of TedxPepperdineUniversity
The idea of “Take the Leap” can seem like a terrifying thought, but these nine speakers are encouraging listeners to do just that.
On March 13, Pepperdine will host TEDxPepperdineUniversity, a TEDx event, centered on “Take the Leap.” The list of speakers includes Pepperdine students, entrepreneurs, artists and leaders who will each share about how they take a leap of faith and how others can do the same.
Irene Ashu is a director, producer, choreographer and dancer, but she said TEDxPepperdineUniversity will be her first larger speaking engagement.
“I’ve always danced on stage but never spoke,” Ashu said. “The theme is ‘Taking a Leap’ and this is also me taking a leap myself.”
Ashu said speaking is something she has wanted to do for a while and being a Pepperdine graduate herself, she thought the intimate setting was the right opportunity.
“I am going to touch on diversity, inclusion and finding your own path,” Ashu said. “Whether you’re taking a conventional career or something creative, just always finding what makes you, you.”
As someone who took a non-conventional career path as a professional dancer, Ashu’s talk encourages others to step out of their comfort zones.
“I’ve always been on the line of being within academia and being in the world of art, and often times those two worlds don’t go together,” Ashu said. “Someone’s like, ‘Oh, when you get serious about what you want to do in the future like become a lawyer or become something that’s consistent,’ but I always knew for myself I’d never be happy finding a typical kind of a pursuit. So it was trusting in myself and opening doors for myself and for other people like me.”
And for those on the fence about joining TEDxPepperdineUniversity, Ashu said do it.
“Connections are so valuable,” Ashus said. “I kind of fell into some of the best situations in my life going to events that I was really unsure of. If you’re never in the room and present to do these things, the opportunities miss you.”
Matthew Helderman is a successful businessman, to say the least. Helderman started three companies before turning 30 and is currently the CEO of BondIt and Buffalo 8. But Helderman is no average businessman. His secret to success? Calling his mom every day.
“An unexpected piece of advice is I call my mother every single day of the week,” Helderman said. “And I’ve done that for a decade since I started my first business. I call her every single morning at the exact same time and then I go out on a three to four-mile run.”
Helderman said his talk is both a reflection on his experience calling his mother and running and how that routine has changed his approach to leadership and business and also encouraging others to build a similar relationship.
“[The idea is] using that [relationship] as a foundation for making decisions that you can really run by an individual that you build this long term narrative with,” Helderman said. “In my case for 31 years, but [having a relationship] for 10 years in particular where you’re involved day to day in each other’s lives.”
While Helderman is a regular speaker at media and entertainment conferences around the world, he said this will be his first time speaking on this particular topic. It was the “TED mantra” of sharing a unique idea that can only be shared by one individual that encouraged him to share his story, Helderman said.
While his success is interesting, Helderman said the unique aspect of his success is those daily conversations with his mom.
Helderman said he uses the analogy of a map in his talk to help illustrate the importance of having a constant outside relationship. As an entrepreneur taking risks and asking others to follow him, Helderman said he relies on his business partners, his wife and his mom to steer him straight and be his “compass.”
“For me it’s taking that leap on a day-to-day basis,” Helderman said. “Quite literally, convincing people to continue to follow behind you and to show the energy and perseverance … that you need someone helping you set that reset button as you’re taking that leap of faith every single day of the week.”
Senior Emma Johnson is passionate about emotions. Having published her own book, “How to be Heartbroken,” and taught a class on emotions, Johnson said her topic was fresh on her mind.
“That’s my topic: art and emotions,” Johnson said. “Those are the two big things I’m all about. I want to encourage people to be more honest about how they’re feeling, but do it in a way that’s empathetic.”
Johnson said her speech is centered on a three-step process to encourage authentic emotions.
“Essentially, we have to be deeply honest with ourselves,” Johnson said, “If we’re deeply honest with ourselves about how we feel, we can articulate our emotions to other people in a way that isn’t painful to them.”
Johnson said she plans to make her talk more visual by incorporating various examples of art to help convey her message.
“Art can be many things,” Johnson said. “Art can be putting together a robot. Anybody who creates anything is an artist.”
Johnson’s talk also touches on art censorship, as she is pro-art censorship and believes artists should be more cautious in the art they’re creating.
“This is a time in which life imitates art everyday,” Johnson said. “We try to be who we are on social media, which is a type of art, and it’s really important to be careful of the content you’re creating and what you decide to put out there.”
But Johnson isn’t worried about speaking to the masses or making sure her talk is a “clickbait” video.
“At the end of the day, my TED talk will be visually interesting because it’s going to be a lot of paintings,” Johnson said. “It’s one of things where it will resonate with you or you’ll take away absolutely nothing and that’s most of what I have to say.”
“I don’t think I’ve been as nervous about anything like I have been about this one,” Mellor said.
Mellor’s talk focuses on the mental model of an individual – a growth versus a fixed mindset. Mellor has worked as an executive coach for many years and helps organizations understand their mental model and how to change the corporate culture.
“A part of what we do in coaching … is to help people recognize that the way that they think is not rigid that they are not trapped in just one way of seeing the world or one way of living,” Mellor said.
Mellor said he chose the topic of mental models because it fits well into the TEDxPepperdineUniversity event and the theme of “taking a leap.”
“Part of taking the leap is believing that you can do something when it hasn’t yet been done,” Mellor said. “I’ll be looking at the mental model part of that. Your actions always reveal your beliefs and so if you don’t believe you can do something, then you’re going to find a way not to do that.”
Mellor said he focused his talk on the things he’s learned and been challenged by and then organizing it so he can best communicate those ideas to the audience.
“My TED talk is only 12 minutes long,” Mellor said. “Which to me really forces you to focus on what would you say that would potentially change somebody’s life. I find that if it doesn’t change my life, it’s probably not going to change anybody else’s life either.”
Mellor said the concept of the TEDx event is compelling, as each speaker believes they can make a difference with what they have to say.
“There is such an incredible range of people and ideas [at TEDxPepperdineUniversity,” Mellor said. “I just think if you’re longing for a deeper conversation about life and a deeper insight into how people think and view the world, this gives you direct insight into that right there on the campus”
Junior Olivia Robinson said she has a strong voice for social justice, serving as the vice-president for Pepperdine’s Black Student Association and having written articles for the NAACP in Washington D.C. and for the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina in Buenos Aires. So when it came to picking her topic for her TED talk, she said she didn’t want to talk about just anything.
“I [wanted] to say something, but I really didn’t want to say anything just for the sake of speaking,” Robinson said. “I wanted it to be something worth talking about and worth taking the time working on to present.”
Robinson said after sending some ideas to a professor, she found her topic: radical love as a confrontation strategy for social justice.
“[Radical love] is being able to love yourself and what you believe in in spite of what else is in front of you, despite what might be against you, despite who doesn’t love you [and] who doesn’t love your cause, and choosing to do that in the face of confrontation,” Robinson said.
Radical love is not passive, Robinson said, nor is it the Hollywood ideal of tenderness and affection, but rather active and intentional.
“Often times you have to interpret love as being corrective and having a spine,” Robinson said. “[Love is] being able to have the hard conversations and stand up for the hard things and tell people they’re wrong.”
Robinson said she was inspired to speak on radical love based off her personal reflection of things she’s read, seen and heard on love and how love is described.
“People say ‘love your enemy’ but really if you start at loving your enemy, you miss a lot of steps leading you to be able to do that,” Robinson said.
Robinson said her piece of advice for Pepperdine students is to get registered and go to TEDxPepperdineUniversity.
“I really hope people come in with open hands,” Robinson said. “Not with an expectation of what it will be or what it won’t be, but ready to receive what will be said by myself and my peers.”
Freshman Raymond Rider grew up grew up in Lubbock, Texas. Rider said that his experience on Southwest flight 1380, along with a few others, introduced him to exposure therapy, the topic of his talk.
On April 17, 2018, Rider boarded Southwest flight 1380 at LaGuardia Airport in New York. While en route to Dallas Love Field, the plane experienced engine failure and rapid depressurization. This caused damage to one cabin window, from which a passenger was partially ejected and subsequently passed away. Although there was only one death, there were many other injuries.
Rider said he was sitting two rows in front of the damaged window. Rider lost his grandfather that same week and two other relatives earlier in the summer.
A few days after boarding that plane, when it was time to move to California to attend Pepperdine University, Rider said he was terrified.
“The knowledge that the only way to get home would be to fly from LAX was a major cause of anxiety,” Rider said.
After experiencing the tragic events of last semester, Rider said he decided that there could be a silver lining in being on Southwest flight 1380.
“The important aspect of it is that it has helped me understand how to cope with things better,” Rider said.
He began practicing exposure therapy and forced himself to fly home.
“To overcome your anxieties, phobias or PTSD, you have to voluntarily expose yourself to these things that make you afraid,” Rider said.
Rider said Southwest flight 1380 taught him that the only way to overcome a catastrophe is to find strength in yourself and confront it.
“I think it is important for especially Pepperdine to hear how my experience can apply to everything this campus has been through,” Rider said.
After growing up in Boise, Idaho, creative futurist Clayton Blaha moved to Los Angeles to pursue his passions. In 2011, Blaha founded the electronic music label, OWSLA, with DJ and producer Skrillex. Blaha’s success is seen through this record label and his skills in music publishing can be heard on albums by Justin Bieber, Madonna and Lady Gaga, among others.
Throughout his time as a producer, Blaha said he realized that by letting one’s passion guide one’s career, he or she will be more successful and happier.
After this realization, Blaha said he started “sticking to what [he’s] good at and loves doing,” instead of branching out.
As a futurist, Blaha said he noticed that he is good at predicting what is around corners. He said he was able to take these speculation and adaptability skills and help the music industry “future-proof” themselves.
Blaha said there is no precedent for all of the changes happening in the world, so all people can do is find elements that they love, instead of obsessing about the future.
He said the topic of “using the things that you already have to define the next step of your life,” is important to everybody, but especially Pepperdine students.
“Whether you go to college or not, everybody has a certain anxiety about their future,” Blaha said.
By remembering that your job is not your identity, students can more easily find their passion, Blaha said.
“Everything that you need is inside of you,” Blaha said. “All the things that are going to propel you in life are your inherent traits that are instilled in you.”
Senior Elijah Zoarski grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. After struggling with authenticity his whole life, Zoarski said he was very excited to move to California to attend Pepperdine University. Even though he jokes that he came to Pepperdine because it “was the furthest place from home,” Zoarski said he has always really admired the university.
Zoarski said his talk is about “[his] journey thought authenticity and how that can help other people.”
Zoarski said his journey to authenticity began after he began working with students and saw that there was an issue related to alcohol on campus.
Unite Pepp, a movement founded on-campus by Zoarski and senior Julia Donlon, who works for the Graphic, sparked a conversation about Pepperdine’s approach to alcohol, including the Good Samaritan Policy. Eventually, the movement broadened its topics to issues of fires and sexual assaults.
Zoarski said he hopes to have the same connection with the student body through his talk as he does with Unite Pepp.
“I wanted to target the 18 to 22 [year old] student range and anyone who has been struggling with identity,” Zoarski said.
Zoarski said his topic is especially relevant to Pepperdine students because of an interesting campus culture that leads people to not be their most authentic selves.
“[Pepperdine’s culture] makes people think that being cool and popular and wearing a Gucci belt makes you cool,” Zoarski said.
Zoarski said he hopes his topic of coming of age at Pepperdine and his journey to authenticity inspire people to be their true selves.
“I am so grateful for this opportunity, and I wouldn’t be where I am without Pepperdine faculty, staff and most importantly, the student body,” Zoarski said.
Kim Perrell, entrepreneur and author, and Danielle Harris, assistant director of intercultural affairs at Pepperdine, could not be reached.
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