California School of the Arts

Lessons learned from RISE: Ideas That Elevate

Every day, there are countless tragedies that occur around the world and near us. Every day there seems to be less and less good in the world. And yet, last weekend, 14 wonderful speakers showed me, and hundreds of others, that it is entirely possible to rise above misfortunes to bring out the good in humanity.

Along with other scholarship recipients, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear a group of extremely inspiring speakers from all walks of life speak at the Huntington Library in San Marino. This year’s TEDx PasadenaWomen event was centered on the idea of “Rise: Ideas that Elevate.”

To further explore this theme, Corazón de Mexico performed a wonderful piece, Quiet Events and Rose City Yoga led the audience in a series of relaxing exercises, and eight other scholarship recipients and I were given the opportunity to perform a beautiful and defiant poem “Still, I Rise” by Maya Angelou. Speakers shared their stories and ideas on how they were able to rise above the obstacles they faced to help their others around them, and how we, too, can overcome our difficulties.

Scholarship recipients and a couple of the patrons

The first speaker, an 89-year-old, Joyce Ruygrok spoke about her falls and how she was able to rise above them: a divorce, a literal fall that resulted in her fracturing her foot and yet another fall that gave her a tennis-sized bump to the head. Having overcome all these difficulties with a sense of humor and optimism, she left with this final thought to the audience.

“There is never any need to be hard yourself, or to think you should have it all figured out. You always know as much as you are meant to know,” she said.

The rest of the day consisted of talks by Carri Twigg, Hui-wen Sato, Amanda Southworth, Valerie Alexander, Lisa Strohman, Jenny Watts, Ryan Pfluger, Mei Fong, Lila Higgins, Steve Elkins and Grace Killelea, Kerry Anderson and Amara Barroeta, each of who inspired their audience to try something new or rise above the status quo.

At just 15, Southworth showed the audience that it is possible to rise above mental illness and eventually help others struggling with mental illness as well.

In an emotional story of her Venezuelan people and her stories of her new home in the U.S., Barroeta reminds us all that we are all vulnerable from fear and isolation, and that closing our doors is never the answer. Her story reminds the audience that when a nation adopts other people and embraces them as their own, the immigrants can rise up and give back to the country that took them in.

From her own discovery and acceptance of own biases, Twigg asks the audience to try to learn and amend their own biases.

Drawing from a similar idea, Alexander cleverly challenges us to make what is familiar unfamiliar to better assess our own behaviors and normalize the “unfamiliar” things that cause inequality.

Having grown up in nature-covered England, Higgins inspires the audience to look for and come to embrace nature within their cities.

Having explored her family’s past, Watts encourages the audience to “embrace other realities.”

From his adventures, Elkins reminds the audience that “when an idea or opportunity presents itself, you must rise up, take action, and not just think about it.”

Standing in front of his portraits, raw with emotion, Pfluger explored the concept of regaining identity and the stories that photos could tell.

Sato, a pediatric intensive care nurse, shares the stories of the lessons that could be learned from grief.

Remembering her very first addiction with a video game, Strohman warns us of the impacts of technology addiction.

Interweaving a classic folktale and her own stories, Fong tells her story of a one-child policy that transformed China into a city of the old, a story she does not yet know the ending to.

And to wrap up the conference, Killelea delivered a wonderful and humorous talk that explored her literal jump of faith out of an airplane to her metaphorical jump that led her to meet her husband and starting a company, portraying the upsides of risk-taking and daring the audience to take their own meaningful risks.

All the speakers with Executive Director Heather Brunold and Emcee Kerry Anderson

Throughout the day, there was so much inspiration and energy as we laughed, sympathized, and were elevated by the ideas and stories presented by each and every one of the speakers. This year’s theme was rise, to inspire positivity and “transcend the past and transform the future,” which was truly beautiful.

The opportunity to partake in something that explores things that raise us up, rather than focus on all the reasons humankind is failing or messing up really appealed to me as a junior surrounded with teenagers just like me stressing about school and college apps, and growing up seeing that we are the people who keep opening our own wounds.

From this event, we all learned that it is not our failures or our misfortunes that end up defining our fates, rather it is how we look past them and turn them around to lift us and others up that makes the difference.