Nichole Houston, who organized the Kane County Adult Education program’s TEDtalk evening, clearly had great confidence in the speakers set to address the event attendees. She compared those speakers to one of America’s greatest classical violinists taking a $3 million Stradivarius to play for public transit in New York - something uplifting and incredibly valuable to those listening, but whose value may not be noticed immediately by passers-by. The evening consisted of four speakers: two keynote speakers brought in especially for the event, and two speakers who are participants in the Transition to Careers program. This was what Houston described as “a big ask - to declare our goals to the community, which makes us more likely to follow through with them.” With the speakers and the program introduced, the evening began in earnest.
The first speaker was Louise Willoughby, a longtime educator and public speaker. Willoughby led by introducing the TED format of public address: “Personal. About a topic that is deeply personal to the speaker - I can do that … concise, fifteen, twenty minutes maybe, keeping the audience engaged rather than wishing the speaker would hurry up and sit down. We’ll see how that went once I’m done.” Willoughby then introduced her topic and how it would fit that format: Memory, one’s memory journey and how our pasts can motivate our present and future. “My life’s memory journey,” Willoughby shared, “is why I’ve decided to help people and teams develop their time and talents.” What followed was a story focused on faith, family and community, told through the lens of individual memories shared by Willoughby. She quoted both Mandela and Churchill, sharing, “education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” from the former and, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” from the latter. Willoughby emphasized education’s ability to prepare an individual to make the world around them a better place, and made the connection with programs like Adult Education and Transition to Career. She expressed her gratitude for being able to work with the program, and with its attendees, especially the two that would follow her with speeches of their own. Willoughby concluded with a quote of her own: “May your journey down your memory lane, both positive and negative, inspire you to make a difference.”
The second speaker was Caden Anderson, one of our Transition to Career students. Anderson set the stage for his speech by citing his early years in Colorado, growing up in a community in which he “felt like just another face in the crowd.” That changed when he moved to Utah with his family. His mother was sick and getting sicker at the time, a situation which Anderson said called for “choosing to put food on the table over getting her own medication.” This poignant story progressed toward the topic that would define and contextualize Anderson’s speech: “All I ever wanted in my life was to be successful enough that my mom wouldn’t have to worry about housing, education, putting food on the table … and when she died, I lost a lot of that drive.” Anderson described some of his lowest points in life following that loss. However, the inspirational value of the story shone through as Anderson continued, “One day my brother showed up … the fear in his eyes made me think I had something to live for still, I had people who love me and I still had something to do in this life. I graduated high school - eleven years late, but I got my GED. I started in construction, which I’ve done a lot in my life … but doing it sober for the first time made me realize it’s something I really care about, probably because of those years when I wondered whether my family would have somewhere to stay. It’s my goal to find a way for no more low-income families to have to worry about having a place to stay.” Anderson concluded, “I urge you guys to find who you are,” connecting with a quote from Gandhi: “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
The next speaker was our second member of the Transition to Career program, one Brittney Vale. Vale shared a similarly poignant experience, one that Houston preceded with somewhat of a content warning for intense and personal subject matter. Vale’s speech detailed her early years in Texas, giving a hard-hitting statement, “my life was never the same … once shame began creeping in.” Vale detailed stories of personal abuse, drug use to escape reality and deep familial betrayal, contextualized by her speech’s title “Shame vs Hope.” Vale recounted her time incarcerated for drug use and possession - a time characterized by dehumanizing treatment and abuse. Again, as with Anderson’s account, the low points of human experience found cause for redemption upon meeting with someone who could treat a person as a person, rather than just a face in the crowd or an object. Says Vale, “I want to thank the officers who arrested me in Utah … they treated me as a person and not like a thing, and that made all the difference in the world. I was shocked at how kind these people were to me … that gave me the hope I needed. I identified that the biggest thing holding me back was shame … I decided to honor life while I had it, that’s the only way it would all be okay, the things that had happened to me.” Vale recounted the research she did on topics of defeating shame and finding hope in one’s life, sharing the advice she took to heart, “unhitch what you do from who you are. Make connections. Engage in acts of kindness to inspire hope. It can make someone’s day - or it can change or save a life. Step out of your comfort zone, stay in the present, re-frame your thinking and talk to people. It was shame that kept me stuck … and it is hope that saves lives.”
Dr. Pam Nichols took the stage to conclude the evening, lamenting how difficult it would be to follow the quality and emotion of the previous speakers and praising them for achieving Houston’s and the program’s “big ask.” Nichols is a veteran of team coordination and communication, having founded multiple veterinary hospitals and spent years teaching business owners and administrators how to have happy and successful teams, communities and work cultures. She cited a book called “The Four Agreements,” stating, “if everyone on any team can evaluate behaviors through the lens of these four agreements, I promise you will have amazing teams that can do amazing things.” Those four are: “Be impeccable with your word. Don’t take things personally. Don’t make assumptions. Do your best.” Nichols recommended the small and abbreviated version of the book to anyone who wished to bring people to work together for a cause, and shared personal experiences with administration and team-building - even including tales of her own success and failure just recently attempting to bring a team of young doctors together, but having to dismiss them. “Teams don’t fall apart because of skill - they fall apart because of behavior … culture is important. Toxic work culture causes teams to fall apart!” Nichols concluded by encouraging everyone to make a positive difference, to analyze themselves and to overcome trials by changing the narrative.
At the conclusion of the evening, Houston thanked everyone for attending, expressed her gratitude and admiration for all four of the speakers and for the program and invited attendees up to the front to speak personally with the speakers. The event was designed as a fundraiser and awareness driver - according to the attendance reports, the evening generated around $500 for the program and its scholarships, with more donations coming in remotely. The event was recorded and can be reviewed once a link is in place - contact Nichole Houston at 435-819-0630 for more information. Donations can be made via the district office, care of Cary Reese, and the scholarship night where those funds will be awarded will be held at the end of the school year.