Musicians, business leaders and more highlight TEDx talks

EDMONDS — The first TEDx event in Snohomish County was a day-long event filled with talks from innovating musicians and business leaders, a documentary filmmaker and even a former astronaut.

It included live musical performances and several presentations on overcoming doubt and fear to accomplish personal goals. Anthropologist Jennifer James challenged the audience to find ways to both accept the reality of death and use it as inspiration for not waiting to try new experiences.

TEDx is a local offshoot of the international TED talk events, organized to bring together leaders in technology, entertainment and design. The Edmonds event, TEDxSnoIsleLibraries, is one of 10,000 such programs held worldwide since 2009.

The event was held Friday at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, where 700 filled the auditorium. The public also could watch the event webcast live at 10 public sites, including local libraries and the community colleges in Edmonds and Everett or on their laptops, smartphones and tablets at home, school or work.

Speakers included Ben Hempstead, chief of staff of ElectroImpact Inc. in Mukilteo; Xola Malik, a hip-hop artist and philanthropist; Tammy Mach, whose immigrant parents from Vietnam started a Mukilteo machining company that has been named Boeing’s Supplier of the Year; former astronaut Dorothy Metcalf- Lindenburger, and Jeff Ericson, who founded Camano Island Roasters.

Swil Kanim, a Lummi Tribe member and violinist, began the event by playing an original composition, “The Honor of All.”

Aviator and Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert told of her love of flying, which began with her first flight as a 9-year-old. She also reflected on the Oso landslide of March 22, 2014 — “a sight no one can prepare you for. This wall of mud had come down … centuries-old majestic trees had splintered and lay like matchsticks across the landscape.”

Therapist Sarri Gilman, perhaps best known as the founder of Cocoon House for homeless teens, talked of the importance of individuals setting boundaries on what they expect of themselves.

“Care for yourself should go up as you care for someone else,” she said.

The audience responded to 25-year-old Shaela Niles’ talk with a standing ovation. She described a childhood of living with selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that left her afraid to speak. Initially, it was at home, where she said she didn’t talk for her first four years of life. When she went to school and was called on by a teacher, she simply could not respond.

“I never understood why I couldn’t talk and others could,” she said. “My parents and teachers didn’t know the reason why either. The teacher assumed I might be autistic.”

In November 2011, she said she found an online description of the extreme anxiety disorder she had been living with. Learning what it was “motivated me to try to overcome it,” she said.

Two years ago, she joined Toastmasters International, a group that helps people develop public speaking skills.

“I stumbled a couple times, but I refused to let it pull me back into the dark,” Niles said.

“What I’m learning is life goes at its own pace, own time and in its own way,” she said. “My life started very slowly … What I didn’t realize was my life was meant to happen in small increments, unrushed.”

Filmmaker Evan Briggs described making a documentary on a West Seattle preschool housed in a retirement home and the importance of inter-generational contact.

Pete MacDoran, 74, watched the live webcast at Everett Community College. The talks were “really quite fascinating … and a wonderful benefit for the community,” he said.

Cathy Fullerton, an EvCC instructor in its business technology department, said what stood out to her about the event was “how intellectually stimulating and moving the speakers are, and such a variety.”

Josiah Zahina, 25, of Snohomish came to event with his brother, David Zahina, 28, of Lake Stevens. Josiah Zahina said he first came across TED talks on Netflix and was interested in seeing TEDx talks live.

“I love the way it’s presented,” he said. “ It’s wonderful having that opportunity and to hear the information presented in a simple yet comprehensive way.”

David Zahina summed up his experience this way: “I love the merging of technology, entertainment and design all in one room and one conversation.”

All the presentations at this year’s event are scheduled to be posted online in about a month. Sno-Isle officials said they plan to hold another TEDx event in Snohomish County next year.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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