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Westport Teens Find Their Passion By Planning TEDx Talk At Staples

Westport teens Claire Dinshaw, Erika MacDonald, Natalie Chun and Zia Sansted work together to host a 'passion-themed' TEDx talk in the Staples High School Auditorium in Westport.
Westport teens Claire Dinshaw, Erika MacDonald, Natalie Chun and Zia Sansted work together to host a 'passion-themed' TEDx talk in the Staples High School Auditorium in Westport. Photo Credit: Alissa Smith

WESTPORT, Conn. – Hosting a TEDx Talk wasn’t something that a group of 12 freshmen at Staples High School had planned for their spring semester.

It wasn’t even something that leader Claire Dinshaw really thought about when she applied for the license in February. But after she got the license, Claire said it was so exciting she couldn’t wait to get started.

When asked why she applied for a license from TEDx to hold the community conversation, she said it was because there weren’t many extracurricular activities available to freshmen at Staples.

“It’s kind of like being a fake high schooler,” she said, adding that TED doesn’t have any limits on who can apply for the free license.

From there, it was a matter of getting a team together, fundraising, finding the speakers and putting the whole event together.

“It’s called ‘Wisps of Smoke’,” Natalie Chun said, explaining that they were inspired by a Vincent Van Gogh quote and his "Starry Night" painting. “But it’s about passion.”

By passion, they mean for what their speakers do and what they enjoy, the students said. And with a panel of 12 speakers ranging from the founder of the website “My Luck Club” to the editor of the Staples High School newspaper and the former superintendent of the Newtown Public  School district, the discussion about passion should be broad, they said.

All of the work was done by 12 students: Dinshaw, Emily Schussheim, René Weisz, Zia Sansted, Grace McGinley, Arin Kaye, Erika MacDonald, Daniel Jersey, Chun, Hannah Bukzin and Colin McKechnie. They split into groups to tackle the different tasks.

They were so well organized, their adviser and social studies teacher Ashley Gayanilo barely had to do anything. “My greatest joy has been watching them just run with it,” Gayvanilo said.

For the students, it’s been a learning experience. One of the hardest things was getting the money needed, they said. Getting people to donate to a nonprofit that wasn’t a 501(c)3 and for an event lead by high schoolers wasn’t something that had the cash rolling in, Dinshaw said.

Contacting the speakers was another difficult task, because as Sansted said, they didn’t want the letters to sound like fan mail.

“Had any of us actually thought about it before doing it, I don’t think we would have,” Dinshaw said.

The TEDx Program is designed to help communities, organizations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local TED-like experiences.

The event is open to the public and tickets are free of charge, but the audience is limited to 100 attendees.

Tickets can be reserved by emailing your name, address, email address and phone number to . There is a limit of six tickets per person. The first 100 people to reserve seats will receive tickets.

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