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Missing School for a Lifechanging Experience

There is more to learning than just going to class.

Last Friday, I missed an entire day of school. Typically, when a student misses day of high school, it can be difficult to make up the nearly seven hours of learning. In my case, the incentive of attending a TED conference definitely outweighed the cost of missing a day of school.

When I told my teachers that I would be missing another day of school, some rolled their eyes at me. They were probably frustrated because I have already missed a few days of school due to college visits. Knowing the consequences, I unsuspectingly dove into a life changing experience that will forever inspire me.

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, three very broad subjects, all of which are important in the development of our future. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the TEDxMidwest conference, which took place Oct. 13 and 14. TED is all about opportunity. Attendees of the event had the opportunity to listen to innovators, top hackers, inventors, movie directors, comedians and multiple geniuses of the world.

The magic of TED is that when the speakers are finished giving their lectures, the speakers themselves join the audience during breaks and are open to share their knowledge with anyone who desires to speak with them. Additionally, everybody at TED is somebody important. According to TEDxMidwest, of the 1,000 attendees at the event at least 580 are CEOs, presidents, executive directors, principals, partners, and founders of largely successful businesses.

Being a student at Deerfield High School, I obviously didn’t fall into one of those categories. However, I was lucky enough to be able to have a conversation with the program designer of Microsoft, talk to numerous CEOs during lunch, have a conversation with one of the main founders of Xbox Live during dinner and interact with many other very influential people in the business world.

When signing up for the event, all attendees are asked to submit three subjects that have interest in and want to talk about. Upon arrival to the conference, every person receives their own name badge, with his or her three subjects printed on the badge. The top ten subjects submitted this year were the future, startups, philanthropy, leadership, art, entrepreneurship, travel, innovation, education and technology. My personal submissions were computer science, state of the art technology and underwater exploration.

All attendees wear their name tag, which sparks conversations. On one occasion, the program manager of Microsoft noticed that I had computer science written on my name badge. He approached me and asked about me about my interest in computers, and wanted to know how much I knew about computers. He made it very clear that he was interested in me. I thought it was pretty cool that a very successful manager of a company known worldwide had even the slightest interest in talking to me. That is the most incredible part of the event--everybody is important, and everybody wants to talk.

I still haven’t even touched upon the speakers. There were over 20 incredible, fascinating and inspiring men and women who spoke at the event, many of which were MacArthur, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winners. I could write an entire paper on each speaker, but I want to highlight a few that truly moved me. One of the speakers, Amory Lovins, is an advisor to governments and industry on advanced energy efficiency. Through multiple charts and graphs, he proposed a plausible plan that by the year 2050 would not only save our country $5 trillion, but also would reduce the use of fossil fuels to zero.

Another speaker, Paul Nicklen, is a top photographer for National Geographic. He spoke on his incredible journeys and how he interacted with polar bears, leopard seals and penguins. Pablos Holman, a futurist and IT security expert, is one of the world’s top hackers and is inventing solutions for the world’s biggest problems. One of my favorite speakers was Dean Kamen. I had the honor to speak with him personally. As the inventor of the Segway, a wheelchair that climbs stairs and the most useful bionic arm, he was a pretty cool guy to meet.

I left this event with incredible inspiration and knowledge that I am forever grateful to have acquired. I may have missed out on a day and a half of learning from the wonderful teachers at , but I know that my work can be made up. TED has forever inspired me, and I hope that people will watch some of the videos, which are all available online. Each speaker that I heard was more amazing than the next.

I close this column with a controversial message to all students and parents: If there is an educational opportunity out there in which a student can be changed, inspired or moved, missing a day of school may be acceptable. These situations in life present themselves very infrequently, yet I believe that people should definitely take advantage of these opportunities.

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