Hometown Heroes Emma Flaherty, Charlie Greene, Abid Hasan, Nick Presthus and Elsa Utoft
August 2023 – TED is one of the best known and most beloved brands in “edutainment.” Since the platform’s inception almost 40 years ago, TED Talks have evolved from a small tech conference into a diverse and high-profile lecture series. Headliners today include Nobel laureates, Fortune 500 leaders and scientists at the forefront of their fields.
TED Talks now log billions of views every year – but the idea’s more intimate beginnings live on through a grassroots initiative called TEDx.
“TEDx is a subcategory of TED Talks,” explained Edina High School student Charlie Greene. TEDx programs are independently organized and hosted in communities across the country. They range in size from TEDxNewYork and TEDxLA to Minnesota’s own TEDxBemidji and TEDxSt.Cloud.
“TED takes the best candidates from these local events and invites them to the [national] convention to speak about their topics,” Greene explained.
“Edina has been putting together TEDx events since 2015,” added Greene’s classmate Emma Flaherty. Organizers took a pause during the pandemic, but TEDxEdina came back stronger than ever in October 2022.
Credit for that renewed energy goes in large part to a dedicated group of Edina High School students. Flaherty and Greene, together with Abid Hasan, Nick Presthus and Elsa Utoft, established a committee to expand TEDxEdina 2022 with a day-long TEDxYouth component.
As the name suggests, “TEDxYouth events are TED programs made by kids and for kids,” Greene explained.
“Much like TED for adults … this first TEDxYouth@Edina included speeches on a variety of topics: mental health, physical health, the environment and personal growth stories,” added Utoft.
For the organizers, this was no one-day commitment. Responsibilities included recruiting for and curating the TEDxYouth@Edina presenter roster.
“The committee held auditions for speakers and decided who we believed produced a unique and powerful speech,” Utoft recalled.
“It was amazing to hear so many people and their great ideas – all from parts of our own community. It was also so hard to choose,” Flaherty added. In true TED Talks fashion, contenders had 10 minutes to make their case. Ultimately, the committee winnowed the list to a dozen speakers invited to speak at the Fick Auditorium for the inaugural TEDxYouth@Edina.
Flaherty’s favorite presenter was also the day’s youngest: Erik Brovold, a then-South View Middle School seventh grader. Brovold spoke with a wisdom beyond his years about the pressures and pitfalls associated with perfectionism.
Utoft felt particularly impacted by EHS junior Sonja Holtey, who demonstrated how the simple act of saying hello has an innate power to transform lives and communities.
Flaherty, Greene, Hasan, Presthus and Utoft divided up other key duties, including event promotion and volunteer management. They also arranged intermission activities and a dinner for all guests. (No ticket holder could say they did not get more from the experience than the $10 price of entry!)
Utoft was relieved that “everyone in the audience seemed to be immersed in all the speeches, and interactive when need be.”
Greene is proud of what TEDxYouth@Edina accomplished, particularly for a debut outing. “It wasn’t easy… We took some ideas from the main event, but our timeline was much shorter.”
In recognition of their accomplishment and the precedent it sets, the Edina Community Foundation jointly honored Flaherty, Greene, Hasan, Presthus and Utoft with a Connecting with Kids Leadership Award in March.