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Never Believe That a Few Caring People Can’t Change the World

One of the many unexpected themes that emerged from this year’s TEDxUniversityofNevada event was the idea that mothers often serve as a source of deep inspiration, encouragement, and support for their children, which often provides the opportunity for their children to become impressive catalysts for change.

During Elizabeth Smart’s talk, for example, she mentioned that her mother gave her the best piece of advice she’d ever received when she said: “Elizabeth, what this man has done to you is terrible, and there aren’t words to describe how wicked and evil he is … but the best punishment you could ever give him is to be happy. Move forward and follow your dreams and do exactly what you want to do.” Elizabeth said that her mother’s advice has been instrumental in shaping her life and that she strives to live by her advice each and every day.  Since her abduction, Elizabeth has written the book My Story, she has become involved in the “Elizabeth Smart Foundation,” and has also helped to promote The National AMBER Alert, The Adam Walsh Child Protection & Safety Act, and other safety legislation to help prevent abductions.


The beginning of session four started out with a short video from Tania Luna, who left her home in post-Chernobyl Ukraine to take asylum in the US. If you’ve never seen the video entitled “How A Penny Made Me Feel Like a Millionaire,” I highly suggest you watch it. In the video, Tania talked about life after Chernobyl, how the rain came down black, and that her sister’s hair fell out in clumps. Being only one year old at the time, she spent nine months in the hospital. Since there were no visitors allowed, her mother bribed a hospital worker to acquire a nurse’s uniform and she snuck in every night to sit by her side to bring her comfort and support. Now there’s nothing quite like a mother’s love, is there? Today Tania is the co-founder and CEO of Surprise Industries and has worked with organizations of all shapes and sizes including Whole Foods, Google, Malaria No More, National Geographic, L’Oreal, and Etsy.

To continue with this theme, local news anchor Wendy Damonte gave an emotional talk about her experience in dealing with the loss of her mother due to breast cancer.  In fact, she even created a documentary, “My Mom’s Story; Her Battle With Cancer,” which was nominated for an Emmy. Wendy talked about her deep love for her mother and how senseless and incredibly sad it was to walk through the disease with her. As a result of her mother’s passing, Wendy worked to uncover information relating to important questions that weren’t being asked of doctors. Wendy’s documentary went on to become an instrumental in passing legislation in the state of Nevada to make it mandatory for women to be informed of their breast tissue type.


In a similar vein, Dr. Leana Wen also talked about the loss of her mother to cancer and how her experience was a catalyst behind her desire to become an advocate for change in the health care system. Her experiences also lead her to write the book, When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests. From a post on her website entitled “A Tribute to My Mother,” she writes: “My mother, Sandy Ying Zhang, is my role model and my inspiration for what I do every day. … she is my inspiration for writing this book because she had gone through many misdiagnoses.There is nothing I can do bring her back now, but she always believed that one person can make a difference. I want to make a difference to my patients and encourage all of you to make a difference in your healthcare.” Today Dr. Wen is moving mountains as a Rhodes Scholar, emergency medicine physician, popular public speaker, and writer.


In the final talk of the day, adventurer and author Neal Petersen talked extensively about the love he had for his mother who inspired him to never dwell on his own problems, despite being born black in South Africa during Apartheid, and unable to walk without a left hip socket. As such, he went on to become one of the foremost adventurers of our time, building his own yacht and sailing 27,000 miles around the world on his own, embracing cultures and tearing down barriers. Today Neal is a sought after speaker, professor, author, and adventurer extraordinaire: he credits so much of his success to his own mom who passed away at the end of 2013. To read a full account of his love for his mother, read the post from his website entitled “Farewell Dr. Stella Petersen (1923 – 2013)” in which he writes “she was more than my Mother; she was my teacher, my inspiration, my hero.”


Let this be a reminder that you must never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.