TEDx Chagrin Falls

Organizer Michael Kasey, from left, speakers Dinah Walter and Molly Miller and Chagrin Falls High School English teacher and speech and debate coach Ken Kasee discuss the upcoming TEDx Chagrin Falls conference at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre. Eight speakers will give TED talks on the Little Theatre stage July 20, with the talks eventually being available on the TED website and YouTube page.

The encouragement to “follow your dreams” is usually nothing more than a pithy cliché, but Michael Kasey took the advice literally and is now organizing the first annual TEDx Chagrin Falls conference July 20 at the Chagrin Valley Little Theatre.

Originally from Louisiana, Mr. Kasey, 34, of Bainbridge is a U.S. Army veteran who served two deployments in Afghanistan and moved to the Chagrin Valley a little more than a year ago to be closer to his son who goes to Kenston schools. He said he had a memorable dream in January of a big red X, and woke up from the dream with an “if you build it they will come” gut feeling.

“I pray a lot, and when I have very vivid dreams I always try to meditate on them and think about them and think OK, what is this trying to say? What does this mean?” Mr. Kasey said.

While trying to figure out what the big red X meant, Mr. Kasey came across a TED talk where the speaker was advocating for an issue he strongly disagreed with.

“Well here’s a platform that can be used for these purposes, what I think is very evil, and also for good purposes, to promote things that are healthy and actually do help people,” he said of his thought process when seeing the TED talk. “I looked it up, and nobody had done one in this town.”

TED, the international organization that holds conferences and gives a platform for speakers to give speeches on education, business, science, technology and more, allows independent, local self-organized events in the TED style to be held and branded as TEDx, with videos from these events distributed on TED’s website and YouTube channel. After some research, Mr. Kasey applied and received approval to host TEDx Chagrin Falls.

Mr. Kasey is a partner in the Ghost Tactical clothing brand, which produces antimicrobial treated garments for the military, is opening a screen printing business and works as a freelance artist, graphic designer and landscaper, all on top of being a full-time student at Cuyahoga Community College using his G.I. bill to study business. While the TEDx conference adds one more thing to his plate, he said it gives him an opportunity to build skill in an area where he doesn’t have much experience.

“I have no organization experience, organizing events and things like that,” he said. “I know there’s going to be a lot of that in the future.”

Mr. Kasey quickly jumped into action lining up speakers and other details for the event. Speakers include Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Lavery, the first special forces above-the-knee amputee to return to active duty, motivational speaker Monica Bassi, Emily Jerry Foundation Founder Chris Jerry, Unity One Global Founder Prash Pavagadhi, True Freedom Ministries Executive Director Michael Swiger and commercial beekeeper and bee researcher Joseph Sullivan. The theme for the event is “Rise to the Occasion.”

“I think that’s something that binds everyone because no one has to do this public speaking, no one has to try to reach other people or inspire other people. It’s a responsibility,” Mr. Kasey said.

High school speakers

The final two speakers for the event came when Mr. Kasey got in contact with Chagrin Falls High School English teacher and speech and debate team coach Ken Kasee. After connecting over their similar last names, Mr. Kasee said he was quickly sold on being involved in the conference.

“I immediately was interested mostly because I knew what it meant for my students and what it meant for the community in general. I was really excited about the opportunity,” Mr. Kasee said.

Mr. Kasey offered the final two speaker slots to Chagrin speech and debate students Dinah Walter and Molly Miller, who compete in the original oratory category.

“It’s an original speech that they write and it can be anything, but we happen to write a more persuasive speech or at least a speech that in the end persuades you to think in a certain way,” Mr. Kasee said. “Because of the fact that Molly and Dinah had already written those speeches and fine-tuned them and did such a good job throughout the season, I knew they would do really well at transforming it to a speech that works for the TED stage.”

Dinah, 18, of Chagrin Falls graduated from Chagrin High in June and competed in original oratory all four years of high school, and said being involved in speech and debate has given her more confidence in her public speaking abilities as well as a diverse group of friends of different ages and from different schools. Her speech this year that she’ll present at the TEDx conference focuses on negativity in young people.

“A lot of times I’ll come to school and people will joke about, ‘Oh this sucks. I don’t want to be here. I want to die,’ and stuff like that, and people will say that as a joke when they have no mental illness and they’re really doing perfectly fine, yet on the other hand people will say maybe that exact same thing in the exact same tone of voice when they really are considering hurting themselves,” she said. “So I talk about that and how because of that it’s really difficult to identify who has a mental illness and who maybe really needs help and who kind of is really just joking around.”

Molly, 17, of Chagrin Falls is entering her senior year at Chagrin High this fall and earned 10th place in original oratory state competition this past season. She said she “did a happy dance” when she heard she would have the opportunity to speak on a TED stage.

“I love listening to TED talks. I absolutely nerd out; I think they’re an incredible opportunity to spread voices throughout different corners of the world,” she said. “I think it’ll be an amazing opportunity to not only share my voice with residents of Chagrin Falls but once on the platform of YouTube, having the opportunity to share a little bit of my story and my thoughts and ideas.”

Molly’s speech explores the successes and failures of the high school educational system and whether it sufficiently prepares students for adult life.

“I can recite the Pythagorean theorem by heart and I know the quadratic equation very well, but I don’t know things like how to approach a mortgage, I don’t really know how taxes work, I don’t know a lot of things about being an adult. And the educational system really hasn’t helped me learn any of that, but they are very strict in versing me quite well in ‘The Great Gatsby,’” Molly said. “So I think my speech in general is discussing ways in which the educational system in Ohio can be improved but also some ways in which it gets it right.”

Dinah said she is looking forward to giving her speech to a larger audience of 100 people compared to five or six students and a few judges at competitions.

“I’m really excited to share with adults more so and kind of see and open them up and see I guess if they’re interested in this issue and kind of what they think of it because they’ll kind of have a different perspective,” she said.

Molly said she is excited to hear from some of the other speakers at the event.

“I’m looking forward to hearing the local voices of the people in my community,” she said. “I’ve looked through the roster at the stories I’ll get to hear, and I just think it’s such a cool opportunity I was chosen out of hundreds of kids that go to my high school to share my voice amongst their own.”

Community involvement

While reaction has been positive, Mr. Kasey said he is still working through the logistics and working to gather more funding and support for the event. While TED recommends a $10,000 budget for a community holding its first TEDx event, Mr. Kasey is operating on a budget of zero and is beginning to work with local organizations including the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, Valley Art Center and Chagrin Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m not looking for money from anybody. I think it would be cool if people said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this, we can cover this or we can do that,’ or, ‘You know what, I know so and so over there and I’ll just pay for this part,’” he said. “That’s what I see as the community takes parts of it and each taking certain parts of it.”

Mr. Kasee said an event like this requires a passionate leader, and Mr. Kasey has filled that role well.

“Michael has done an outstanding job of keeping the mission and the purpose at the forefront of all this,” Mr. Kasee said. “The reason I immediately gravitated toward this event is because I think he is not self serving, a person who really understands it’s more about bringing people together and the community it creates. These are things that are really powerful much more than any one person.”

Mr. Kasey said he is looking forward to seeing all of the plans come together into a community-gathering event for the area he has grown to love in his short time here.

“This (community) is a very rare thing,” he said. “It really is an honor to live here and I’m glad to be a part of the community, so anything that I can do to help in other situations I love to work and I love to help.”

The TEDx conference is running the same day as a scheduled CVLT production of “Young Frankenstein,” so Mr. Kasey said a question and answer talkback session will be held after the event at Heartwood Coffee Roasters in downtown Chagrin Falls. For more information on TEDx Chagrin Falls, visit www.facebook.com/tedxchagrinfalls or twitter.com/tedxfalls, and to purchase tickets, visit bit.ly/TedXFalls.

Tim Tedeschi covers the Solon and West Geauga Board of Education, as well as statewide education issues, sports and features. He is a lifelong diehard Cleveland Indians fan and a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University.

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