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Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace and Susan Price, founder of TEDxSanAntonio

Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace and Susan Price, founder of TEDxSanAntonio

San Antonio has evolved into the City of Ideas, said Graham Weston, chairman of Rackspace.

“The whole genesis of TED is about sparking ideas and spreading ideas and that happens every year at TEDxSanAntonio,” Weston said

This is a culture Rackspace wants to be a part of, Weston said. Rackspace served as the main sponsor of the daylong TEDxSanAntonio event at its headquarters’ event center on Saturday.

“The speakers for TEDxSanAntonio share new ideas with us and also give us a glimpse of some of the cool stuff people are doing across the city that often is unknown,” Weston said. “Every year that I come to TEDxSanAntonio it makes me very proud of our city and our region about all of the interesting things that are happening here.”

This is the biggest TEDxSanAntonio ever, said Susan Price, the event’s organizer. The event, now in its fifth year, has a core organizing committee of seven people and 40 volunteers, Price said. While the first event held at Trinity University had just a few hundred people, this one attracted more than 650 people. TEDx is based on the TED conference, an annual event focused on spreading ideas about technology, entertainment and design, but TEDxSanAntonio is organized locally under a license from TED.

“We try to feature ideas that are springing up, and around and about San Antonio,” Price said. “We fly a few speakers in every year with ideas that are relevant to San Antonio.”

One of those speakers was Trevor Muir, a teacher at Kent Innovation High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He received a standing ovation following his talk on changing schools to an environment of engagement in which students tackle projects and solve problems in the real world.

His students learned about World War II by interviewing veterans in the community and creating film documentaries, which they later showed to the entire community. His students also created websites and projects for immigrants new to their area so they would know how to do simple things, most people take for granted, like take a public bus or turn on the lights.

Susan Price, founder of TEDxSanAntonio

Susan Price, founder of TEDxSanAntonio

This year’s TEDxSanAntonio theme, “Ideas in Action” means the community doesn’t just want to discuss ideas, but they want to put them into motion, Price said.
“We’re giving them a call to action,” she said.

Jorge Amodio, an engineer, attends TEDxSanAntonio every year.

“It’s always inspiring,” Amodio said. “It’s a great community to share what you know and to learn from others.”

The speakers evoke emotions from the audience ranging from laughter to tears. Molly Cox and Victor Landa served as the emcees for the event and provided light-hearted transitions between some difficult subjects.

Sarah-Jane Murray, a professor at Baylor University, opened TEDxSanAntonio with a talk on how people are hardwired for stories through neural coupling. She recalled a story from her childhood in Ireland about her Poodle, who yearned to be a sheepdog.

“If you tell a story well, and you’re not just talking about language, you’re causing your brain to fire on all of its cylinders,” Murray said.

The brain of someone listening to a great story mirrors the brain of the person telling the story, Murray said. Stories affect people because they alter their chemistry, she said. When a story is well told, two major chemicals are released into the brain like cortisol for stress and duress and oxytocin for empathy, Murray said.

“Stories are the great levelers of this world not because they eradicate our differences but because they transcend them,” Murray said.

People are 22 times more likely to remember a story than fact alone, she said.

That’s why people have to be careful about the stories they tell, Murray said.

“We need stories that inspire us to greatness,” she said.

Throughout the day, the TEDxSanAntonio speakers did just that.

John Lambert discussed lessons from improv and how the theater taught him how to deal with life’s unscripted twists, turns and tragedies like the death of his wife, Maria Ivania from cancer.

Leezia Dhalla told a story of her life as an undocumented American. She learned just before her 21st birthday that she didn’t have legal papers to stay in the U.S., where she had lived since the age of six. Her family moved from Canada.

Dhalla received a degree from Northwestern University and got a work permit in 2012 that allows her to stay in the U.S. for two more years.

“We try to stay positive but it’s hard to keep your head down and your chin up at the same time,” Dhalla said.

Today, 11 million people are living in the shadows with papers, Dhalla said. Half came here without authorization; the other half came here legally including Dhalla’s family. They waited for their applications for citizenship to process but a series of mistakes happened and the documents never got approved.

She’s hoping immigration reform will give her and her family an opportunity to legally stay in the U.S. permanently. She asked the audience to help make that a reality.

Kori Ashton, founder of WebTegrity, created a painting with the big, bold letters “Inspire,” on stage while she told stories about her family and her mother’s struggle and triumph over Polio. She encouraged the audience to live a great story and inspire someone.

Steve Vrooman, a professor of Communications Students at Texas Lutheran University, encouraged the audience to share more information about themselves with others. That creates a connection that is more than just transactional, he said.

Studies show on social media, followers of a person, brand or company, share just 3 percent to 15 percent of all the content posted. Vrooman contends if the content was about people and not information, they would share more.

“Share more,” he said.

Joshua Singer and Abhinav Suri, cofounders of Apps for Aptitude and School's Out Hackathon.

Joshua Singer and Abhinav Suri, cofounders of Apps for Aptitude and School’s Out Hackathon.

And Joshua Singer and Abhinav Suri, two high school seniors, encouraged the audience to hack or create something new. They want to create a hacker culture in San Antonio. They’ve launched a company, Apps for Aptitude to encourage others and they host an annual School’s Out Hackathon for high school students.

Luz Cristal Glangchai, an engineer, wants to encourage more girls to become engineers. She founded VentureLab in San Antonio. The nonprofit organization runs a series of programs geared at kids as young as five to high school age to get them interested in entrepreneurship and experiment in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. Three student-run companies from VentureLab have raised more than $240,000, according to Glangchai.