In geometry, a vertex is a point where two or more curves, lines, or edges meet. At TEDxUniversityofNevada, Session I—appropriately titled “Vertex”—was all about bringing lines of thought together in a meaningful and convergent way.
Whether that be two different ways of thinking about free speech, or two divergent talks based on an experience of being stalked, common themes united in unexpected ways aimed at fostering new ways of thinking about particular subjects.
The first session of the day kicked off with a bang, beginning with a powerful talk about free speech from Nevada Deputy District Attorney Orrin Hatch. In his talk “Why Free Speech Is Society’s Immune System,” he asked whether or not some thoughts or ideas are too dangerous to hear? Should we give politicians the power to outlaw—and define—“hate speech?” Referencing University of Nevada, Reno student Peter Cvjetanovic, who recently made news headlines following his appearance at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Hatch said:
“His ideas, like all disgusting things, only grow and thrive in dark, dank, and hidden away places. There’s an online petition to actually get him expelled at school, or fired from his job at the university. But ladies and gentlemen, we want to see him in the light of day. We want to hear his ideas put up against better ones, because sunlight is the best disinfectant. Seeing it, exposing it, examining it, laughing at it, that’s how you make ideas like this lose power.”
Hatch began his legal career after graduating from the University of Washington School of Law in 2007. As a public Defender in Reno, Nevada, he lobbied his state legislature on criminal defense issues. Hatch has also served as a Surface Warfare Officer in the US Navy from 1998 – 2004. He served aboard two destroyers – as the Electrical Officer aboard USS Russell (DDG 59) and as the Navigator of USS Paul F. Foster (DD 964) – deploying three times in four years.
Following Hatch, ACLU senior staff attorney Lee Rowland next shared her perspective on the topic of free speech in a discussion about “Campus Free Speech Realities And Myths,” where she talked about three myths pertaining to our First Amendment rights, and concluded with practical suggestions for exercising free speech rights in a powerful and strategic way. She said:
“I don’t think today’s students are snowflakes, I think they’re badasses, because they bear the brunt of that first amendment on campus where these professional provocateurs come. When I say that silencing your political opponents isn’t the answer, it’s not because I think that’s weak, it’s because I think it’s unstrategic. So, if silencing your enemies isn’t an answer, then what does empowerment look like in the first amendment?”
Rowland has extensive experience as a litigator, lobbyist, and public speaker. She has served as lead counsel in federal First Amendment cases involving public employee speech rights, the First Amendment rights of community advocates, government regulation of digital speech, and state secrecy surrounding the lethal injection process.
With fresh ideas in mind about free speech and first amendment rights, Sharyl Attkisson next added to the conversation in a talk that asked “How Real Is Fake News?” As a seasoned journalist, Attkisson has investigated the shadowy, multi-billion dollar industry that seeks to manipulate all of us through news and social media. She wondered: who might be behind this recent and massive effort to direct our attention onto fake news?
Referencing such examples as the conspiracy theories that popped up following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, and the fabricated story about a fraternity gang rape published by Rolling Stone that later had to be retracted, she said:
“The Internet revolutionized fake news whether we’re talking about a rumor, or intentional disinformation, or biased, sloppy, erroneous reporting. What would have circulated amongst a relative few, could now develop a global following overnight.” She also speculated: “When so many of the media are reporting the same stories, promulgating the same narratives, relying on the same narratives, even using the same phrases … when everybody is on the same page, it might be the result of an organized campaign.”
Attkisson is five-time Emmy Award winner and recipient of the Edward R. Murrow award for investigative reporting and author of two New York Times bestsellers: “The Smear” and “Stonewalled.” Attkisson hosts the Sunday national TV news program “Full Measure,” which focuses on investigative and accountability reporting. For thirty years, Attkisson was a correspondent and anchor at PBS, CNN and CBS News, where the Washington Post described her as “a persistent voice of news-media skepticism about the government’s story.”
If you were left questioning whether or not you really knew anything at all after Attkisson’s talk, then chances are that Robin Brockelsby’s talk “Overcoming Fear After Being Stalked” spun your thinking in a new and unexpected direction.
As a wife, mother and business owner, Brockelsby was a confident force in her community until her life was drastically altered by a stalker who turned his focus to her and her family. She said:
“I feel very vulnerable sharing a story that’s very personal to my husband and I. And we actually went back and forth for quite awhile if on if we should even talk about this. But we both agreed in the end, that if we could help somebody else going through this same story, then sharing what’s going on with us and how we got through it is worth it.”
In her talk she shared a raw, vulnerable and inspirational narrative about her journey to reclaim her emotional strength, bravery and power following her victimization.
Brockelsby is an Entrepreneur, Speaker, Leadership Consultant and President of the Board for the Crisis Call Center of Nevada. In addition to running her household which includes her husband and 3 teenagers, Robin owns and operates multiple businesses in Northern Nevada, including Creative Coverings – a corporation that is recognized as one of the nation’s leading Special Event Linen Rental & Sales Companies.
Building on Brockelsby’s story, Cara Brookins gave a slightly different angle her her experience of being stalked and victimized in her talk “Building a Life Without Limits.” In referring to life after domestic abuse as a single mother with four children, she began:
“For more than a decade we had been stalked and terrorized by a man with severe paranoid schizophrenia. And when I married this muscled up guy who I thought would protect us, he became physically abusive. My kids learned to push their dressers in front of their doors to survive the night, they learned how to run and hide, how to be small, and how to be broken.” She asked: “Have you guys ever had an idea that was so big you knew instantly it was going to change your life. It felt absolutely perfect, all the way down to your toes. And you knew this wasn’t just one answer to your problems? It was THE answer?”
After escaping from domestic violence with her four kids, she decided the only way they would ever build a better life was to take an impossible leap and literally build it with their own hands. Together, they built a 3,500 square foot house from the ground up by watching YouTube tutorials. Mixing concrete by hand in a wheelbarrow, raising walls, and running plumbing and gas lines taught her that a determined human can do practically anything, proving we we all have the strength to build ourselves a better life.
As a sought after speaker and a best-selling author of both fiction and non-fiction, Brookins is reframing the way people reach for their goals by helping them plan a future so big it will change their perception of themselves. Sharing her extreme methods of leaping toward major life change eventually led to Brookins’ memoir, “Rise, How a House Built a Family,” which sold at auction and has been optioned for a major motion picture.