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TEDxUArizona to explore ‘The Messy Middle’ of Gen Z, multiculturalism and more

TEDxUArizona+will+take+place+on+Tuesday%2C+Jan.+31+in+Centennial+Hall+and+will+feature+UA+speakers+and+performers+as+they+address+a+variety+of+subjects.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Joe+Klug%29

TEDxUArizona will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 31 in Centennial Hall and will feature UA speakers and performers as they address a variety of subjects. (Photo courtesy of Joe Klug)

The University of Arizona will host its own TEDx event on Jan. 31 in Centennial Hall. The theme of the event will be “The Messy Middle.”

TEDx events are independently organized TED conferences that can be run by anyone but are frequently hosted by universities, organizations and communities. The TEDxUArizona website describes the event as “a biannual full-day experience on the University of Arizona campus that brings multidisciplinary speakers, performers and audience members together to generate, celebrate and share ideas worth spreading.”

The distribution of seats for TEDxUArizona was determined via lottery between Jan. 10 and Jan. 18. Registration is now closed, but the talks will be recorded and posted online after the event.

The following are listed as speakers on the TEDxUArizona website:

Jennifer Carlson, associate professor of sociology and government & public policy

Kai Lepley, a doctoral student

Meow or Never, an a cappella group

Mary-Frances O’Connor, associate professor of psychology

Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta, associate professor of environmental science

Patrick Robles, student body president and undergraduate student

Hona Vaioleti, undergraduate student

The theme of the event comes from a book of the same name, “The Messy Middle” by Scott Belsky. Though the book concerns the highs and lows of running a business, the TEDx talks will apply this concept more broadly.

Patrick Robles, student body president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, will give a talk titled “Gen Z’s Chaotic Coming of Age” which will focus on the economy, culture and political environment in which Generation Z (born 1997-2012) grew up.

“In my opinion, Gen Z has been growing up in the ‘messy middle,’” Robles said. “We grew up with a Black president while also seeing racist and bigoted behavior being embraced in our political system. It’s kind of talking about these unique focal points of our coming of age and how it’s influenced our thinking and why companies, businesses and our country should be accepting of us when we choose to step up to the plate and contribute to our institutions, our community and our businesses.”

The opportunity to give a TED talk has brought Robles’ educational experience full circle.

“I’m still kind of pinching myself,” Robles said. “I remember being in middle school, high school, and of course, in college, our teachers are putting them on the screen and we’re listening to these insightful thinkers, authors, celebrities, just everyday folks talk about ideas that they have worth sharing. I’m so grateful to be in this moment of time where I can also share an idea that I’ve been having on my mind.”

Engineering freshman Hona Vaioleti is also excited to share an idea on his mind, but his journey is a little different than some of the other speakers. He approached the TEDxUArizona organizers after an experience in his English class that reignited his passion for public speaking.

“I got an assignment in my English class in October, and it was ‘choose a stance on immigration.’ It could be anything,” Vaioleti said.

His background in high school speech and debate led Vaioleti to give a speech on the effects of cultural assimilation in the U.S. The format of his speech was reminiscent of a TED talk.

“When I went to give it in class, I prefaced it … and I was like ‘this should feel like a TED talk. [I] gave the speech, felt really good about it, and then as I was sitting in class, I just went down the rabbit hole, where I was like ‘I like TED talks, where do you give TED talks? Can I give a TED talk? I want to give a TED talk. Is that even possible?’” Vaioleti said.

Vaioleti reached out to the organizers of TEDxUArizona and expressed his desire to give a TED talk based on his English project. After exchanging some emails, he was eventually invited to pitch his talk to the organizers, who liked the topic and gave him a spot at the event.

The talk is titled “A Life Between Cultures,” and Vaioleti’s primary audience is second and third-generation immigrants.

“If your parents are immigrants, if your grandparents are immigrants, if you’re close enough to your immigrant culture where it’s a relevant part of your life as an American, you’re in the demographic that this is about,” Vaioleti said.

The talk will explore what it’s like to navigate two cultures at the same time, and how the culture of one’s family can often clash with American culture.

“It’s this weird difference where you feel connected to both of them, but because they contradict in some areas you don’t feel like you belong to either at the same time and so that’s where things get messy. How do you find a sense of cultural belonging when you have both? That’s the main idea behind it,” Vaioleti said.

Not everyone presenting at TEDxUArizona will be giving a talk: Meow or Never, an all-male a cappella group at the UA, will be performing a set at the event. Ross Nemeth, president of Meow or Never, said the group’s popularity on social media caught the attention of the event organizers.

“The people who are running the event actually saw a viral TikTok that we posted and they found us through that,” Nemeth said.

The video features members of Meow or Never lip-syncing a song performed by the Treblemakers in the movie “Pitch Perfect.” After the video received over 700,000 views, the organizers of TEDxUArizona reached out to the group and asked them to sing at the event.

Meow or Never will perform the song they sang in the TikTok–a mashup of the songs “Bright Lights Bigger City” by CeeLo Green and “Magic” by B.O.B. and Rivers Cuomo. They will also sing “Without You” by David Guetta featuring Usher and another mashup: “Pompeii” by Bastille and “Viva la Vida” by Coldplay.

Nemeth explained that the “Pompeii” and “Viva la Vida” mashup fit with the theme of “The Messy Middle” because of the songs’ subjects.

“I think it kind of shows sometimes you lose things, and in ‘Viva la Vida’ it’s like ‘Who would ever want to be king? I had all of this stuff and it’s gone now,’ and in Pompeii it’s sort of the same thing. ‘The walls kept tumbling down.’ Sort of that theme of losing stuff but still sort of continuing to have hope that things will get better, which is what our competition set is actually about,” Nemeth said.

The mashup will be Meow or Never’s opening number at the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella in late February. It was arranged by the group’s music director, Noah Embry.

Doors open at 10 a.m. for entry to TEDxUArizona. For more information about the event, visit tedx.arizona.ed


  Follow Kristijan Barnjak on Twitter  


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