TEDx spreads ideas, thought at West Point

Story by Michelle Eberhart Assistant Editor

April 28th, 2016 | News, News and Features
Tobie Hatfield, senior director of Athlete Innovation at Nike, shared personal anecdotes about shoes he’s made for people with Cerebral Palsy to Olympic gold medalists. Hatfield traveled from Oregon to speak during TEDx West Point April 22.    Photo by Michelle Eberhart/PV
Retired Col. Robert L. McClure, USMA Class of 1976 graduate and currently president and CEO of the West Point Association of Graduates, gives a talk during the first TEDx West Point April 22. McClure discussed the powerful lineage of the Long Gray Line.    Photo by Anthony Dinoto/Association of Graduates

The first TEDxWestPoint took place April 22 at Robinson Auditorium. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design, and the “x” means the TED event is independently organized. The purpose of TED is to spread ideas in the form of short, powerful talks.

Class of 2017 Cadets Saverio (Rio) Macrina and Zach Cohen lead the initiative to TEDxWestPoint.

“It’s really always been my dream to have TED come here, and to have TEDx, especially, come here,” Cohen said.

Cohen said his first experience with a TED talk was in his 11th grade English class.

“That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen,” Cohen said. “The ability for a person to make someone feel something serious and powerful, just through speech, I’ve always loved public speaking, it’s been my passion, and getting an opportunity to bring that to West Point, spread ideas, make people feel pretty good, and maybe spark some new ideas, is really the whole point.”

First Captain EJ Coleman helped come up with the idea of bringing TEDx to West Point and assisted in getting the license to hold the event at the U.S. Military Academy. After that, Macrina and Cohen took charge.

“After we got the license in the middle of last year, Rio and I have taken the last year or so to present this event. He and I have been working side by side,” Cohen said.

To get speakers for the event, the two reached out to other cadets as well as their professors. Cohen approached his physics teacher, Maj. Shawn Fitzgerald, who Cohen says is one of his mentors.

“Maj. Fitzgerald really took this idea of TED talks and made it into one of our labs in physics last year. So he said we’re scrapping the lab, this is what we’re doing, we’re doing fake, science-y TED talks,” Cohen said. “He knew I was into it, he knew the class was into it, and he did what it took so we could realize the energy of our dream.”

Cohen hopes that other cadets would leave the auditorium realizing the energy of their dreams as well.

“A lot of us, we kind of just go through our daily lives here and don’t do a lot of extracurricular thinking in my opinion,” Cohen said. “For someone to walk out and say, wow, I never thought of it like that, that’s really powerful, I’m going to change something in my life because of it… the TED mission is to spread ideas and that’s really what we’re after, to spread ideas and have some fun.”

Macrina, the cadet in charge, agreed.

“I think this is very important because of some of the ideas themselves, even at West Point, can benefit the Army, can benefit the people here and people everywhere,” Macrina said. “But beyond that, I think this is something really cool to show how cadets can, although busy, they can go outside their normal tasks and do really interesting academic things, and hopefully it will inspire other cadets to delve deeper into their academics, deeper into things that interest them, and kind of try to explore those and share them with others.”

Of the nine speakers at TEDxWestPoint, there were five cadets and two majors from the U.S. Military Academy, as well as guest speakers retired Col. Robert McClure, Class of 1976 USMA graduate and the CEO of West Point Association of Graduates, and Tobie Hatfield, senior director of Athlete Innovation at Nike.

Hatfield was the first speaker of the event, sharing stories of shoes he’s made for people, ranging from Olympians to those with disabilities. He said caring about others is key.

“I’m probably, I guess, best known for the work that I did on a shoe, and a franchise called Nike Free,” Hatfield started. “But what I truly aspire to be, is a good person above all else.”

McClure’s talk, while different, was equally powerful. He talked about the Long Gray Line and the connection each graduate of West Point has with one another.

“It’s no secret that deep bonds take hold when we face tough challenges together,” McClure said. “Here, those same bonds also connect the living ranks of the Long Gray Line with the ghostly assemblage of past generations.”

Aside from the guest speakers, cadets and faculty members gave powerful talks allowing the audience to reflect on topics outside their normal realm of thought.

“The first TEDxWestPoint served as a proof of concept that cadets and faculty have interesting and well researched ideas to share, and that other cadets have a curiosity to listen and learn from them,” Macrina said of the event’s success. “We are very excited to capitalize on the pursuit of intellectual excellence that we have tapped into amongst cadets and faculty at West Point.”