TEDxYouth@MaristSchool Explores Uncharted Ideas

The inaugural TEDxYouth@MaristSchool event took place on Friday, October 6 in Woodruff Auditorium. TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a nonprofit media organization that shares conversations—or “Talks”—facilitated by influential speakers in their area of expertise. Marist School junior Alessio Toniolo coordinated and hosted the conference held at Marist in partnership with TEDxYouth and decided upon the overarching theme of “Off the Beaten Path”.
Feeling like the culture of empathy and enthusiasm for intellectual pursuits at Marist was a perfect fit for the types of conversations known to spark and be discussed at a TED Talk, Toniolo conceptualized the school’s first TEDxYouth event with help from several Marist School faculty and staff.

“At Marist, we value intellectual curiosity and community. We are comprised of many talented individuals with unique skills, passions, and ideas,” Toniolo said. He hopes that this event, and future events of this kind, will offer “a platform that encourages us to think outside of our bubble.” 

With the theme, “Off the Beaten Path,” this event debut dared the Marist community to break free from comfort, explore fresh ideas, and venture into the extraordinary. It was a bold and innovative step for a school that values curiosity, empathy, and community spirit. The event was not just an occasion for showcasing the diverse talents and ideas of Marist students; it was also a call to action and an opportunity to challenge preconceived notions.

Toniolo was aware of the reservoir of potential residing within the Marist community, and the student speakers did not disappoint in representing some of Marist’s most inventive thinkers. In true TED fashion, the event featured a lineup of inspiring speakers who dared to step away from conventional wisdom to embrace the unexpected. The talks covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from personal journeys of resilience to pressing global issues that demand our attention and action.

“I’m incredibly proud of these students who represented Marist so well,” said Director of Student Activities Mrs. Amelia Luke ’01, who helped produce the event. “It’s rare for teenagers to stand up in front of their teachers and peers and communicate so knowledgably and passionately about their chosen topics. I’m proud to know we have students like that at Marist.”

While the specific subjects vary, the overarching message of the TEDxYouth@MaristSchool event intended to motivate the Marist community to pursue one’s own path and make a difference in our community and beyond. This first event was a resounding success, setting the stage for future “Talks” that promise to expand our horizons and encourage us to think beyond our comfort zones. The recordings from TEDxYouth@MaristSchool will be published by TED for at-home viewing soon.

Explore the TEDxYouth@MaristSchool topics and speakers:

Taylor Gitonga ’28

Published author of the novel “The Portal in the Pantry” and star of the Marist Foundations spring musical “The SpongeBob Musical (Youth Edition)”, Gitonga took the audience through her journey as a young Black student in the arts. Persisting against bias and adversity, Gitonga shared important ideas around self-affirmation, resisting the status quo, and rejecting the urge to seek outside validation.

Whit Kester ’25

Drawing on his internship at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) and work on defense mechanisms at Lockheed Martin, as well as his experience building a car and learning to fly airplanes, Kester introduced his groundbreaking ideas on the next generation of transportation and the important environmental impact of steam power. He urged the audience to “look back to the past for the future.”

Ephrata Tesfaye ’26

A social activist, speech & debate team state champion, and spoken-word poet, Tesfaye shared meaningful insights on western feminism, historical prejudices, and how important intersectionality is to enhancing society. Tesfaye encouraged the audience, “if you can listen to a couple more voices, you can change a couple million more lives.”

Alec Issa ’24

Over the summer, Issa completed an internship through Marist’s Career Connections program with Dr. Mary Plisco of Richmont Graduate University where he performed cutting-edge research on stress mindsets. The fascinating results of the study prompted him to share how to use daily stress to one’s benefit.

Juliet Powell ’25

A member of the Marist Environment Club, Powell presented compelling data and actionable steps to reduce one's carbon footprint while dispelling common myths related to climate change. Drawing from climate science summer classes at the University of Notre Dame, Powell offered practical solutions and encouraged innovation within our homes and community.

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An Independent Catholic School of the Marist Fathers and Brothers