Pace stages TEDx Talks

Student Camille Caton described the October event at Pace Academy as one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of her high school career: giving a memorized, 10-minute speech to a lecture hall of 400 spectators.

The Buckhead senior was part of Pace’s third TEDx talk, a student-run version of the popular series launched in the 1980s as short lectures around technology, entertainment and design. Today, TEDx events can be found around the globe and cover a range of topics well beyond the original three.

The Pace program was born in 2019 when Upper School English teacher Robert Kaufman was approached by an 11th grade honors student, Michael Fu, with the idea.

“For a few months, it was just me and Michael figuring it out,” said Kaufman. “We had to apply to use the name and agree to follow the TEDx guidelines that say talks can’t be about a religious or political topic.”

The debut, themed around challenging the status quo, was planned for the COVID-impacted spring of 2020, and given the option to cancel or go on Zoom. Kaufman decided to put the program on hold. The first event was held a year later with a mix of student and adult speakers.

“At the time, I thought that was it, but afterwards, I got a handful of lovely emails from parents and teachers asking when we were doing the next one,” said Kaufman. “So we kept going.”

A second TEDx was held in November 2021, and the most recent presentation was several weeks ago. The program is now entirely student run and drew 23 participants, from those who designed posters, photographed and recorded, and managed the stage production.

“Camille spoke about how people see her as this happy-go-lucky person, but she suffers from severe dyslexia,” said Kaufman. “It takes a lot of courage for a kid to get up on stage in front of hundreds of people and talk about themselves. They’re very brave.”

A family friend acted as coach and helped Caton prepare for several months.

“I had attended last year’s talk, so I knew the general idea,” she said. “I had to write and memorize the entire speech. I had two rehearsals. But it was still my first time talking to a crowd that size. The other speakers hadn’t done it before either, so we were all in the same boat.”

Once she started, Caton said her nerves subsided to the point she might consider doing it again. “I felt very rewarded. Kids with dyslexia and parents have reached out to me.”

The students now hope to expand the idea beyond the Pace campus.

“We’ve had other schools reach out to us about setting up their own,” said senior Amartya Kallingal, who leads the program’s communications outreach. “We’re also hoping to set up talks at universities, too. We’re working to have more of a reach. Like TEDx, the mission is to share people’s voices.”

Information on the Pace program is online at tedxpaceacademy.com.


SEND US YOUR STORIES. Each week we look at programs, projects and successful endeavors at area schools, from pre-K to grad school. To suggest a story, contact H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or 770-744-3042.