“I want to start by making you all think,” Jessica Black said. “Consider the choices you made in your life and where they’ve gotten you. How many of those decisions did you make without considering your own opinion, and when did you start making decisions for yourself? These may sound like simple questions, but do we ever truly think about them?”
Black is advising an audience on her steps to living a “fulfilling and meaningful life.” And she sounds just like any other professional motivational speaker might.
Except Black is not a professional motivational speaker.
The speech she is giving is part of “TEM Talks,” an event held June 3 at Temecula Valley High School’s Golden Bear Theater and organized by Great Oak High School students Stephanie Lai and Paisley Trent.
Black might sound like a pro, and although Trent referred to her as the “in-house motivational speaker,” she’s actually a senior at Great Oak High School in Temecula.
“This is my first real, like, audience experience,” Black said after her presentation.
All of the speakers at the “TEM Talks” – so named as a reference to both TED talks and the city of Temecula – were high school students, plus one middle schooler.
“These are our speakers putting together their own thoughts and ideas to share with people,” Lai said.
The student speakers spoke on everything from perceived dangers of GMO food products to their experiences with discrimination.
One Great Oak student, Miguel Diaz de Leon, gave a talk that was equal parts instructional lesson on coding and love letter to the movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
The event, Lai said, is a fundraiser for academic scholarships for students throughout the Temecula Valley Unified School District.
Trent said after auditioning for TEDxTemecula, it was suggested to her and Lai to do something for youth instead, as TED speakers are usually adults.
“So, we had the idea to set up this event, and then we went to the (Temecula) city council to basically ask for a city grant,” Trent said. “And Councilman Jeff Comerchero was nice enough and he gave us a grant.”
The $1,000 grant came out of Comerchero’s discretionary fund, Lai said.
“That covered basically the venue and that’s about it,” Trent said. “And then we reached out to speakers in the community and different schools within the area.”
Potential speakers were asked to send a video presenting their speech topic.
After a board chose the speakers, Lai and Trent worked with each to develop their speeches. And although the speeches had a polished final appearance, there were some butterflies backstage, some of the speakers said.
Gabriela Goldsmith, another Great Oak High School student, said while this is not her first public speaking appearance that didn’t stop her from briefly fretting before her speech.
“I feel somewhat confident about it, but, I always get nervous right before,” she said.
Goldsmith, of course, went on to give a well-put-together presentation on the pitfalls of the American education system, perhaps channeling some of that nervous energy to better represent her experiences taking a rigorous high school coarse load.
Lai said she hoped to offer two $250 scholarships to students throughout the Temecula Valley Unified School District out of the funds – entry fees were $15 pre-sale and $20 at the door – raised at the event
“While it’s not that large of an amount, I strongly believe anything helps,” she said.
The remaining $600-800 will be used to help Temecula high school students pay for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate tests, which can help students gain college credit while still in high school, at a cost of about $80-100 per test.
“Students who take multiple (tests) are faced with a large financial burden,” Lai said.
“That way we can make it more of a district-wide thing that is more cohesive and set up with all the students,” Trent said.