October 12, 2009
By Mike Orren
SMU engineering student Mary Moore demonstrates a simple water purifier to poet and TEDxSMU co-host Rives.
University Park — I went into TEDxSMU on Saturday with high hopes and a bit of trepidation: As a longtime fan of the international Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) conference -- never able to attend, but avid watcher of the presentation videos online -- I wondered whether our area's independent spin-off would measure up.
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Many of the attendees were in the same boat, lacking the ability to pony up the $6,000 admission to the main TED event or the patience to bust through the waiting list. (The 2010 edition is already sold out.) We were all wondering if a local event with a comparatively cheap $100 price could do Dallas proud.
To be fair, my expectations were already elevated, based both on the pedigree of the speakers and the folks who put it together. The charge to launch a local TED event was led by local TED stalwart Jim Young and SMU Bobby Lyle School of Engineering Dean Geoffrey Orsak. Young is a longtime "TEDster," who is seen in the front couple rows on a large number of videos on the TED site. Singer-songwriter Jill Sobule, who is a TED regular and who performed at the SMU conference told me "It's like you can play 'Where's Waldo' with Jim when watching those videos." I'd also met with Sharon Lyle, who took the lead in pulling the event logistics together and knew that the goal was not to put on a provincial, "poor-man's" local TED, but an event that would be every bit as challenging and exciting as its namesake.
I can absolutely say that TEDxSMU far exceeded my high expectations and set an admirable bar for future programs. All the other attendees I talked to enthusiastically agreed with that assessment.
(I should note that Pegasus News was a minor sponsor of the event, based solely on my enthusiasm for TED and the folks involved. But I applied to be one of the five hundred admitted and paid for my ticket just like everyone else.)
President Kennedy's podium.
The level of commitment to the program was perhaps best illustrated by one of the props: When I first walked in to the Caruth Auditorium at the Owens Art Center, I noticed what I assumed was an old podium the facility had with the Presidential Seal on the front. I initially wrote it off as a cheesy prop for one of the speakers until Orsak came on stage and explained its lineage. TED tradition dictates having a historical artifact representing the theme of the day. TEDxSMU organizers decided early on that they wanted the actual podium that President John F. Kennedy stood behind when issuing his challenge to put a man on the moon. That presented two challenges -- finding it and then convincing its custodians to allow such a national treasure to travel. Running out of time and having still not found it, they sought help from speaker and astronaut Anousheh Ansari. The podium was found "in the Raiders of the Lost Ark warehouse, beside the Holy Grail," and then negotiations to bring it to Dallas began. The podium arrived literally minutes before the program began and was watched over by a security guard who sat on the edge of the stage for most of the day. . .
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