Photo Credit WGN News
Program will feature two alumni
November 29, 2017

TED Talks are coming to Culver Academies thanks to Helen Johnston’s senior service project. Scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 9, TEDxCulverAcademies will focus on “The Courage to Break Through.” The event will be conducted in the Legion Memorial Building. Seating is limited.

“I chose the speakers by organizing them into categories of what their ‘courage’ was,” Johnston (Park City, Utah) said. “Some speakers broke through social barriers, while others broke through technological barriers. All will bring a unique perspective to the conference.”

Johnston’s set of speakers will include two alumni and two students. She was inspired to organize TEDxCulverAcademies by watching her fellow students constantly pushed to go to college, take hard classes, and “resume-boost.”

“I wanted to discuss alternative methods to achieving happiness, and how others have really taken control of their life and had the courage to break through social norms and pursue their passions,” Johnston explained. The event will highlight the cardinal virtue of Courage, she added, and “encourage students to discover and explore true bravery.”

The speakers include:

Chicago resident Demetrius Nash ’97 didn’t graduate from Culver. While he was accepted by the University of Illinois-Chicago, he didn’t attend, eventually becoming a drug dealer until his arrest at age 26. He spent the next eight years in prison, followed by another four years on probation. During that time, he read several books, including A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, which set him on his current path of giving back to his community.

His efforts include completing a 672-mile walk from Chicago to Washington, D.C. to heighten the awareness of gun violence in his hometown. His walk also raised more than $28,000 for his non-profit initiative “Replace Guns with Hammers,” which encourages young men to enter the construction trades while also rebuilding their communities. He has been interviewed by ABC, ESPN, and is currently working on a documentary.

Lex Clay ’06 is a diversity consultant, speaker and entrepreneur. He began his journey with a 2006 speech about transgender identity at Culver, which led to intermittent speaking engagements over the years. He recently founded Box People — a company that educates schools, companies, and organizations about identity and LGBTQ issues.

Clay has a masters degree in Medical Sciences from the University of South Florida’s Morsani College of Medicine and a B.A. in Pre-Professional Studies and Spanish Literature from the University of Notre Dame. Clay’s experience as an NCAA Division I athlete for the University of Notre Dame and the University of Tennessee prompted his current work on lectures and workshops which focus on transgender issues in athletics and medicine.  A former Batten Scholar, Clay served as Diversity Council Chair, Honor Rep, and Senior Prefect. He resides in the Bronx, N.Y.

Connie Yang is the Director of Design at Coinbase, the leading website for buying and selling Bitcoin. Prior to Coinbase she spent five years as a product designer at Facebook, shaping the digital profile of more than one billion people. Her work as a designer has spanned advertising, mobile games, social networks, and is now focused on ushering in a new and more secure financial system for people throughout the world. Yang studied design at The University of Pennsylvania and lives in San Francisco.

Growing up, sports were Hailey Danz’s passion. At age 12, she was diagnosed with bone cancer in her left leg. A year of chemotherapy and many surgeries saved her life, but left her with a leg that was functionless. In an effort to reclaim her life and go back to the active lifestyle she once had, she made the decision to have her leg amputated above the knee when she was 14.

She began competing on the International Triathlon Union (ITU) elite paratriathlon circuit. Danz won her first world championship in 2016 and Danz raced her way to a silver medal at the Paralympic Triathlon in Rio on Sept. 11, 2016. She currently resides in Colorado.

The two students who will be speaking are Ava Viohl ’19 (Culver) and Molly McGrane ’20 (North Aurora, Illinois).

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