TEDxTeenThe theme for this year’s TEDxTeen event was “The Wisdom Of Not Knowing,” a concept that resonates with Millennials because they’re currently trying to figure out their futures in a time of great uncertainty. Each of this year’s speakers approached that topic from their own unique perspectives: a teen whose parent had Huntington’s disease and could be a carrier; a student who chooses to stop learning to start thinking; a young woman figuring out her own complex nature when role models don’t exist; and more. Their stories follow… And stay tuned to TEDxTeen for videos of the presentations.

Monique Coleman kicked off the event asking the teen attendees to look around the room and notice how many people they don’t know (yet). The fewer people we know, the bigger and scarier the room feels, but the more we know, the smaller and more intimate it feels. By the end of the day, the room had gotten much smaller!

Jacob Barnett, at 13 years old, was the first teen to take the stage. He advised his peers to “forget everything [they] know right now.” Most kids do their homework and get good grades, but they get stuck in the current mode of doing things; they forget to think outside the box and come up with their own creative ways of thinking. When he was diagnosed with autism at age 2, he wasn’t supposed to learn to talk or do complex physics problems. While it looked like he wasn’t learning because he wasn’t behaving like other preschoolers who were into fingerpainting, he was actually thinking very deeply and processing information in his own unique way. Sometimes it helps to step out of “learning” mode and get into “thinking” mode, like when Newton found himself a student at Cambridge University when it was closed during the plague and he had to stop learning in order to start thinking and creating. It was during that time that he developed not only new theories, but also invented tools (telescopes and more) to test his work. This struck us at Ypulse as especially poignant because with the world’s knowledge at their fingertips, it’s easy for Millennials to amass tons of learning, but they also need to stop occasionally and remember to think about how they can apply what they know. Jacob’s powerful message to the crowd was to “spend 24 hours learning nothing,” and instead take that time to think and create.

Tavi Gevinson at TEDxTeenTavi Gevinson told the teenage audience about how she’s still figuring things out. There are a lack of strong, complex female characters in media, particularly strong, teen girls, so learning to be one herself, she’s had to define what that means. That includes accepting one’s own complexities, contradictions, and flaws. It’s possible to be a feminist and to be into fashion; to be smart and pretty. There isn’t a rule book on how to be a strong feminist teen. It’s a dialog and learning with oneself. She reminded the audience that it’s okay that they’re still figuring it out. “It’s not the point to give answers…but to give ourselves permission to find our own answers and to figure it out.” Her lesson for the audience was to “be like Stevie Nicks.” She’s a strong woman who doesn’t hide her complexity or apologize for her contradictions.

Kristen Powers is a 17 year old who has learned to harness her inner kid. She watched her mother suffer from Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder that she has a 50% chance of inheriting. Not being able to test for the disease until age 18, she has spent years building her wisdom of not knowing. Exploring her new reality in journals, writing fiction, short stories, poetry and more, she decided to start the Inner Kid project at age 11. Not knowing led her to decide that she would never give up that excitement, imagination, and creativity that kids have in excess. When life is short, why should the best part (childhood) be at the beginning and then everything is down hill from there? For Kristen, the “ultimate wisdom of not knowing is to follow crazy ideas and passions regardless of whether the risk is acceptable.” Most people think about what they’ll do with a long life, but she challenged the audience to think about what they’ll do right now to live life to the fullest and leave their mark on the world.

Natalie Warne spoke to the crowd at TEDxTeen for the second year in a row. In 2011 she told them about her work with Invisible Children and the “Anonymous Extraordinaries” she met along the way. In the year since, she’s moved to LA and Chicago, struggled to pay bills, and pursued her dream of becoming a filmmaker. It wasn’t a glamorous year and she had no epic story for the audience, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a story to tell. She’s learned that “sometimes, we need to be the voice of our community, to amplify the stories of others.” Through connections, shared experiences, and actions, she’s met others who are committed to social change, including some of those working with Invisible Children since they’ve launched the Kony 2012 campaign, and she’s learned to share the voices of those people. The campaign isn’t the story of one person and it doesn’t stand alone, which is why it’s being carried forward. One lesson that she’s learned in the past year that she shared with the audience is that social media and technology has pulled back the curtain on personal connections. They “don’t make us more connected; they’re revealing how we’ve always been connected and how no story exists alone.”

Sujay Tyle vowed at the age of 11 he’d make his own path to success. After years of working in university labs and learning from and training older students, he dropped out of Harvard in his sophomore year to take a position with a start up, Scopely, in Silicon Valley. It was a path that many of his family and friends couldn’t understand because earning a college degree is what is expected of young people. He didn’t know what would happen when he left school, but he wanted to see where the path would lead. Now, four months after having left Harvard, he’s learned more than he’d ever learned in school. Society encourages us to take the road less traveled, but Sujay encouraged the audience to think of another road, “the one that you create, the one that has never been traveled. At the end of your road, you can say ‘that was awesome, I own that road!”

These are just a few of the stories we heard at TEDxTeen. Mteto Maphoyi never worried about what he didn’t know as he taught himself and his friends to sing Italian opera while growing up in South Africa. Angela Zhang began her impressive career as a scientist when her father posed a nearly impossible question to her at the tender age of 7; since then, she’s been breaking down problems into smaller questions, focusing on what she knows in order to figure out the unknown. Krystyn Lambert, a young magician, encouraged us to embrace the unknown and not explain it away as cosmic randomness. Learn more about each of these impressive teens and watch their presentations at the TEDxTeen site.