Diverse TEDx lineup exhorts over 800 attendees to “make no little plans”

Bird warns of oligarchy if student apathy continues.

By William Rhee

Ryan Holiday, bestselling author and director of marketing at American Apparel, discusses the practical lessons provided by Stoic optimism during TEDxUchicago event at Mandel Hall on Saturday.The fourth annual TEDxUChicago conference was held on Saturday, April 19, drawing more than 800 people to Mandel Hall. The conference was centered on the theme “Make No Little Plans,” inspired by the famous words of Daniel Burnham, the chief architect of the 1893 World’s Fair.

The student-run event brought in 11 speakers, including former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin, Microsoft General Manager Khadija Mustafa, and 2012 Obama campaign National Field Director Jeremy Bird.

This year’s event saw a significant increase in attendance. Last year, only an estimated 150 individuals attended the conference. This was due in part to a decreased advertising budget because of debt the organization had accrued from previous years.

In “How To Be a Loser,” mixed martial artist Rich Franklin talked about the importance of learning to deal with a loss. “There’s a potential loser in each and every one of you,” said Franklin.

Franklin drew from several of his fights to discuss the discipline that losing enforces. “The fight that I about the most is one in which I made a losing effort,” said Franklin. “Losing is inevitable; make sure you have the tools in your toolbox to deal with it.”

As a former high school math teacher with a master’s degree in education from the University of Cincinnati, Franklin did not plan on a career as a fighter, even though he dreamed about it as a kid. “I tried my first fight my senior year in college as a dare from my friends, and when I found that it could turn into a full-time career, I was willing to pursue my dream,” he said.

Jeremy Bird, who is currently a partner at 270 Strategies, a consulting firm that specializes in grassroots organizing, spoke about the current lack of voter participation in America and the dangers it presents.

“Our democracy is at serious risk,” said Bird, in reference to the fact that 126 million eligible voters didn’t participate in the 2012 election. “If you care about economic inequality in this country, if you care about everybody’s voices being heard, if you want our politics and the things that affect you to matter…this should trouble you greatly.”

“An oligarchy is what we’re on our way to if this continues,” Bird said.

Third-year Lauren Riensche was selected as the undergraduate student speaker. In her talk, “Dinner Reservations for 9 Billion,” she explained how genetically modified organisms were one step in the puzzle to solve the challenges that face modern agriculture.

Riensche is the sixth generation to work on her family’s farm, Blue Diamond Farming Company, in Jesup, IA. Ever since she came to Chicago, she said, she found that many people lack substantial knowledge about agricultural issues.

She drew on her background as a farmer in her defense of the use of genetically modified organisms. “I want you to trust a farmer,” Riensche said during her talk. “Because I have to eat this food, my family has to eat this food, my best friends have to eat this food, and I don’t want to feed them anything that I don’t trust.”

The conference was emceed by Stacey Hanke, founder of Stacey Hanke Inc., a communications coaching firm. Other speakers at the conference included comedian Susan Messing, hospitalist Dr. Aelaf Worku, economics lecturer Sabina Shaikh, Director of Marketing at American Apparel Ryan Holiday, Director of Swanson Mathematical Neuro-Oncology Lab at Northwestern University Kristin Swanson, and fashion designer Borris Powell.

TEDxUChicago is an independent event supported by the nonprofit organization TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) and is organized by a group of nine student board members and volunteers.