Professors, students share their stories at TEDxUSC

The audience at Tommy’s Place was held spellbound as Carrie Zhang strummed on her ukelele and poured her heart into a song dedicated to her immigrant parents. The performance was part of Saturday’s TEDxUSC, an event where students, alumni and professors took the stage to talk about causes important to them, as well as the community at large.

The event was an independent program inspired by the national series, known as TED Talks, that are designed to spread ideas through speakers and presentations. TEDxUSC was hosted in conjunction with USC Academic Culture Assembly, Undergraduate Student Government and USC Program Board.

Victoria Garrick, a sophomore majoring in journalism and a USC volleyball player, spoke about the prevalence of mental illness among student-athletes, as they try to juggle school work, family, social life and sports at the same time. She emphasized the importance of constantly evaluating athletes’ mental health, so that they can lead a healthy lifestyle.

“If you think about it, the culture of athletics preaches, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way,’ ‘The best don’t rest,’ ‘Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going,’” Garrick said. “Mental illness is associated with weakness. To appear weak is the last thing an athlete wants.”

Zhang, a junior majoring in public relations, performed a song on her ukulele as a tribute to her Asian American family, most notably her parents, and the struggles they had to go through to build a successful life in the United States.

“Thank you so much for the sacrifices you made and making me into the person I am today,” Zhang said. “I hope I get to tell your story of immigrating to the United States, and the story of us and how we came to be in my future endeavors.”

The conversation shifted to the global level as speaker Stefani Mikov  discussed her ideas on Syrian refugee camps, notably her engineering contributions toward refugee housing. She and her team worked on constructing shelters, minimizing the distance to basic community needs such as providing water access, maximizing living space and designing for privacy.

“In the 21st century, no one should be living in refugee camps,” Mikov said. “That’s why I wanted to create a community … where people share their fears and their hopes. That’s why our design is not only adopting an engineering perspective, but also an ethical perspective.”

The shelter design not only incorporates coffee shops, where people will be able to sit with their neighbors over a cup of coffee, but also mosques and other religious centers where people will be able to pray.

The event concluded with professor Jeremiah O’Brian talking about the hardships he faced in life — from growing up with no father and a mother with mental illness to being practically illiterate in high school and eventually advancing his education with the help of mentors and professors. He said that his role model and hero was Rocky Balboa, from the movie Rocky, because the character taught him how to get back up after being beaten down.

“Whoever you are, find your hero, find your Rocky — I don’t care if it’s in person or a film, one or many, it doesn’t matter,” O’Brian said. “It just matters that you have a hero you identify with and who inspires you to something more. Then, become your own hero.”

Senior international exchange student Youngwon Moon said the TEDxUSC talk was a way for her to explore U.S. culture and see how American views and values differed from Korean ones.

“Because I’ve never lived in the U.S., it’s hard to know about what people think,” said Moon. “If I hear these thoughts [in the TEDx talk,] I can feel how it’s different.”