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TEDxDU brings radical collaboration to Newman Center stage

Members of the audience at TEDxDU on May 13 react to one of the event's speakers. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

A paralyzed woman walked across the stage, a pair of poets rapped about making their voices heard and four masked men created a world of sound on an enormous marimba.

As emcee Hillary Blair said, “It’s a very TEDxDU kind of day.”

 Blair kept the pace rolling along as scientist, inventors, spiritual leaders, students and teachers dazzled the crowd at the second annual TEDxDU, a celebration of “ideas worth spreading.” Underscoring the theme of “Radical Collaboration,” speaker after speaker took the stage at DU’s Newman Center for the Performing Arts and detailed their own accomplishments and the teamwork necessary to achieve them.

Speaker Ramona Pierson, for example, had the crowd holding its collective breath as she described going for a run, getting hit by a car and waking from a coma 18 months later. After 50-some surgeries, the hospital was out of options and sent her to a senior center in Denver.

“The senior citizens held an emergency meeting,” Pierson said.  “They asked each other, ‘What skills do we have? This kid needs a lot of work.’”

The seniors taught her to speak (and curse), walk with a cane and generally get on with a life.

“It was people working with people to rebuild me,” Pierson said. “People working with people to re-educate me.”

Now a successful entrepreneur and inventor, Pierson is working with people to create new ways to educate students across this country. For that, she earned a standing ovation.

DU student Andrew Steward also got the crowd on its feet when he related his journey out of mental illness and implored people to have compassion.

“When someone breaks an arm, we write all over the cast,” he said. “When someone has a mental problem, we run the other way. Why is that?”

In row after row of red velvet seats, students, parents, faculty and local TEDsters teared up and stood to cheer Steward, his bravery and his ideas.

The same audience giggled like teenagers as advertising exec Tor Myrhen told how a talking, puking infant became a Super Bowl commercial sensation because writers, editors, actors, infants and one courageous client worked together to create the E*Trade baby.

When John Common and Blinding Flashes of Light played a new song, Common asked the entire crowd to bust out their camera phones to collaborate on the music video.

Lacey Henderson, a DU cheerleader, capped the day when she said, “I am radical collaboration,” and told of the doctors, prosthetists, friends and family who made her active life possible on one leg.

Henderson introduced Eythor Bender, who builds bionic products. He talked about his work and introduced Amanda Boxtel, who modeled his latest project, eLegs.

A former ballet dancer and skier, Boxtel suffered a spinal cord injury 19 years ago and hasn’t walked since. Wearing the eLegs backpack, leg braces and a harness, Boxtel slowly and gracefully walked to center stage.

“I walk for you,” she said. “I walk with you.”

Yep, it was a very TEDxDU kind of day.

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