Women in the Spotlight at TEDxUniversityofNevada 2017

By Tiffany Brown

Sixteen powerful, inspiring, and thought-provoking women graced the stage at this year’s TEDxUniversityofNevada event to share collective messages of sorrow, hope, joy, encouragement, and inspiration.

While Alexis Jones, Ebonee Davis, Julia Picetti, and Tara Conner gave hard-hitting talks about issues, Ashley Greenwald Tragash, Ashley Evdokimo, Samina Ali and Vanessa Vancour educated through personal experiences. Iskra Lawrence and Ming Li Wu shared stories about self-acceptance, as Mariana Atencio and Ashley Clift-Jennings asked us to simply be humanists. Cam’s performances soothed and explored emotions, while Daniela, Paulina, and Alejandra of The Warning Band rocked out and inspired.

Read on to learn more about some of the key points shared during each of these women’s elegant talks.

Alexis JonesAlexis Jones is a thought-provoking and energetic speaker who has given recent lectures at the United Nations, White House, Harvard Business school, NASA, ESPN and more. Through sharing stories about her conversations on college campuses and in locker rooms across the country, she talked about the need to re-frame the discussion surrounding violence against women. This begins with teaching men how to respect women. “We have to imbue these young men with enough self respect that they can respect others,” she said.

Ashley EvdokimoAshley Evdokimo is a hospice care worker at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Reno, as well as an MBA student at the University of Nevada, Reno. She also happens to be the winner of the TEDxUniversityofNevada 2017 speaker competition. Through sharing her own personal near-death experience, combined with the time she’s spent working in hospice care, she simply asked people to have the courage to choose how they want to die. By educating about advanced directives and explaining their importance, she is empowering those to take action and avoid placing unnecessary burdens on others.

Ashley Greenwald TragashAccording to Ashley Greenwald Tragash, Ph.D. “birth should be seen as a dance between mom and baby.” But unfortunately, too many births are medically controlled from start to finish, never allowing for a woman to experience the natural process that birth is meant to foster. As a behavioral psychologist and doula, Tragash has participated in more than 100 births. Her talk boiled down to empowering women to deliver their babies in a way that they choose, by opening their eyes to the choices they actually have available when it comes to making decisions about their child’s birth.

Ashley Clift-JenningsAshley-Clift Jennings opened her talk with a simple question to the audience: do you believe that you’ve met your soulmate? According to Jennings, she’s certain that she could find her soulmate in a room even if the lights were turned off, which was a statement that reduced many to tears throughout the audience. For even after her soulmate told her he was transgender, the strength of their connection did not dissipate. Listen to her talk to find out the full story, which is a talk that explores the concept of love, what it means to be married, and how our souls run deep.

CAM: Cam is a country music singer and songwriter who was recently featured on the TV show The Voice. Cam gave a poignant talk about the role of music in our lives. She said: “Music lets us talk about things we can’t discuss, like guilt, rage, and grief.” Through sharing a couple of her own songs and the deep meanings behind their lyrics, she opened her heart up to the audience and invited them to explore. With classic grace and poise, she guided attendees through a journey of song, driving home the point behind the latent power of music.

Ebonee DavisEbonee Davis is a New York City-based model. She recently penned an open letter to the fashion industry that appeared a few months ago in Harper’s Bazaar. She wrote: “As artists in the fashion industry, we are the embodiment of free speech. We set the tone for society through the stories we tell—fashion, the gatekeeper of cool, decides and dictates what is beautiful and acceptable.” In her talk, she reflected on her personal experiences as a black model in the fashion industry. She challenged the audience to broaden their definition of what it means to be beautiful; she even challenged Vogue Magazine to put a Muslim woman on their cover featuring a hijab.

Iskra LawrenceIskra Lawrence is a British model and body positivity advocate currently featured on the cover of this month’s issue of Self Magazine. Her inspirational talk invited women to practice the art of self care. Encouraging women everywhere to support and lift one another up, she asked that women stop striving to be perfect because “the real beauty ideal is being perfectly you.” Through her inviting, convincing, and likable style, she shared stories of personal struggles and issues overcome. With over three million followers on Instagram, this talk will surely help to carry her message even further.

Mariana Atencio: At the beginning of her talk, NBC and MSNBC journalist Mariana Atencio noted: “It’s like we’re stuck in these bubbles that no one wants to burst. It takes courage to show respect.” Having grown up in Venezuela, Atencio at first felt like an outsider in the U.S., but eventually realized that what made her different is what made her successful. After spending time with her sister who was confined to a wheelchair following a bad accident, she declared: “being able to reimagine yourself beyond what people can see, that is the toughest task of all.” She encouraged people to not only celebrate that which makes them special, but to be humanists before and after everything else.

Ming Li WuAccording to Reno Davidson Academy high school senior Ming Li Wu: “for a dialogue to take place, someone has to make the choice to be vulnerable and share.” At the start of her talk, Wu jumped right into to a colorful and captivating slam poetry session about her mixed heritage. She emphasized the frayed emotions one feels by constantly being pushed and pulled into the opposing realms of differing cultural backgrounds. She asked that we “tell our stories honestly, thoughtfully, and with all the complexity they deserve.”

Julia PicettiJulia Picetti is a Reno local who very recently lost her daughter to a drug overdose, and has since opened up an addiction recovery home. “My heart is broken and I’m pissed off. Our substance abuse programs aren’t working,” she stated. Sharing the story of how her once jubilant and energetic daughter slowly changed after becoming involved in drugs, she reflected that “addiction has no bias.” She encouraged us to re-think what it means to be an addict, and the need to view addiction as a sickness in need of treatment.

Samina Ali: Samina Ali is a former cultural ambassador for the U.S. State Department and regular contributor to The Daily Beast and Huffington Post. In her talk she guided the audience on a trip back through time and tradition to explain the history of Muslim women’s dress. After describing how the use of the hijab came to be in modern society, she made the point that if Muslim fundamentalists want to return to the year of 600 AD, it would actually be a huge step forward. Stay tuned for her thought-provoking talk about the changing history and treatment of women across time and culture.

Tara ConnerTara Conner is a former Miss America whose career hit a turning point once she was busted for cocaine. What most people didn’t realize, however, was that she had already been leading up that moment for a very long time. Her talk is perhaps best summed up from an attendee who stated: “Tara Conner, who worked for Trump, dropped cocaine, Trump, religion, hell, molestation, and sex in first 60 seconds.” Certainly, Conner knows how to grab one’s attention. Through sharing her story of overcoming a rough upbringing, hitting a critical turning point, and now celebrating 10 years of sobriety, hers is a story anyone can appreciate, learn from, and celebrate.

Vanessa VancourVanessa Vancour is a former news anchor and current faculty member at the University of Nevada, Reno. Opening up her talk in Spanish, she shared the story behind her Mexican heritage and her mother’s experience as an immigrant. Some of her key points were that “you have always had the power to challenge your own assumptions,” and that you’ll never know a person’s story unless you ask.”

The Warning BandBack for their second year at TEDxUniversityofNevada, sisters Daniela (16), Paulina (14) and Alejandra (12) rocked the house with their original music. In-between songs the girls shared insights and uncovered the motivations behind their creativity. Bonded by a deep love for playing music together, and driven by focusing on their individuality, these sisters radiate pure passion, confidence, and zest. After sharing a story about various music industry contacts attempting to change their sound, they asked: “why would we want to change ourselves to be successful?”

Did you know that only 15 percent of the speaker recommendations that come in for the flagship TED event each year are represented by women? Well in Reno, we are reversing the trend! Nearly three-fourths of the talks at this year’s event were given by females. After taking the full spectrum of these talks into account, one thing is clear: these women simply rule, and we are grateful for their stories.

Photo Credit: Tim Dunn and Chris Holloman