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Sunday's TED Talk event in Tampa focuses on youth

Published Nov. 17, 2014

TAMPA — It's often said that ideas can come from anywhere. On Sunday afternoon at the John F. Germany Public Library auditorium, several speakers tried to inspire the next great one on topics related to youth.

This being the TEDxYouth@TampaRiverwalk, the fifth annual installment of the event based on the popular TED Talks series, several presenters at the downtown Tampa library were young people themselves.

Hillsborough High School seniors Maria Roberts and Ellie Rodriguez talked about Side by Side, a group they created to raise awareness about women's education globally, in affiliation with the United Nations Foundation campaign Girl Up.

"Once you hear about girls in other countries not getting education, you feel like you need to do something because it is a huge problem and it's hard to believe this is even happening still," Roberts said.

The duo designed T-shirts sporting statistics like "Only 30 percent of all girls worldwide are enrolled in secondary school," with proceeds going to Girl Up, which promotes education, health and safety for girls worldwide. Then they got students to wear them to school on Teal Tuesdays, named for the shirts' color.

Roberts and Rodriguez said their younger sisters are trying to start branches at their own schools, and people from as far away as Pennsylvania and England have asked how they can start something similar to Side by Side.

But Rodriguez said they want young people to pursue causes that interest them, and to do so because of their own passion, not for reasons like the community service hours required for Bright Futures, Florida's lottery-funded college scholarship program.

"Community service is seen by a lot of people as a requirement to fulfill rather than a means to fulfillment," she said. "We want to challenge that. We want to push people to do something that they care about."

Another student, Sarasota High School freshman Rachel Mallett, talked about suicide. The subject was close to her because her mother committed suicide after suffering from borderline personality disorder and an addiction to painkillers.

"Losing my mom was, and is, extremely difficult to handle, especially when there are solutions out there," Mallett said. "It just requires us to take some responsibility."

She listed three warning signs to look for in someone considering suicide — withdrawing from activities they enjoy, displaying irritability and talking about suicide.

"Seventy percent of people who commit suicide tell someone first," Mallett said. "That's outrageous, to think that there are warning signs as clear as this."

Mitch Meller, 23, said he was impressed by Roberts and Rodriguez's technological savvy, and moved by Mallett's speech.

"It really resonated with me," he said.

Meller, who lives in California, was looking for a way to spend a day in town. A fan of TED Talks, he heard about Sunday's event and decided to attend.

Other presenters were out of high school but spoke on youth-related subjects. Fiona Potter discussed Rock the Talk, an after-school program she created to help improve students' public speaking skills, and teacher Joseph Almeida's talk was on "how living like a third-grader can transform your lifestyle."

For more on the talk and its speakers, go to ted.com/tedx/events/12306.

Contact Jimmy Geurts at jgeurts@tampabay.com or (813) 226 3402. Follow @JimmyGeurts.

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