TEDxUCR: “Amplify” intensifies the atmosphere with stories about empathy, music and bravery

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2026
TEDxUCR: Amplify articulated the power individual and sometimes uncharacteristic choices can make in our everyday lives.
Catherine Yong/HIGHLANDER

In last year’s TEDxUCR, which was given the theme “Reaction,” speakers who varied from a New York Times best-selling author to a current UCR history major with a knack for taekwondo took the stage to explain why the way we react to adversity and fear is a defining characteristic in our personal development. This year, on Saturday, April 16, with a high turnout resemblant of the previous year and equally as enthusiastic speakers, TEDxUCR returned to provide a diverse interpretation of the magnification of human actions, with the theme being “Amplify.”

The two hosts of the show, Taj Ahmad-Eldridge, executive director of the ExCITE company startup incubator and accelerator at UCR, and Michalis Faloutsos, UCR director of entrepreneurship and computer science professor, introduced the theme to the audience, asking them what they believe “Amplify” could mean or offer as a lesson. There was a brief interpersonal discussion within the audience regarding this question but in the end, no consistent answer was constructed nor did the hosts provide a concrete definition of the word. As third-year English major and pre-medicine minor and University Honors volunteer for TEDxUCR Kishore Athreya articulated, “The theme of ‘Amplify’ is to bring attention to the human and scientific component. We go through a series of experiences on a daily basis, but what is important?”

Opening the night was not a prominent celebrity nor national figure that could have been expected of the first act of the night but rather a local librarian from the Palos Verdes Library District: Ketzie Diaz, a UCR graduate school alum who received her BFA in general studies. However, her exceptional involvement within the library services community has propelled her to the forefront of activism in a field in which prominence would be rather unexpected in. Through her TED talk, she explained how she utilized her occupation to go above-and-beyond what was expected of her, first by emphasizing the importance of libraries for education, second by shedding light on how libraries have been utilized in times of need. For example, during the Ferguson unrest of 2014, libraries were used as centers of solace and connection and were even used to feed over 200,000 citizens. Libraries are conventionally viewed as city facilities offering free books but with unity, persistence and connection, their usage can be amplified into a tool that can merge an entire community together.

Howard V. Hendrix, also a UCR graduate school alum in English literature and now vice president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America organization, shifted the direction of the event from being centered on an external structure such as libraries to internal processes of the mind. His lecture was formatted as presenting a series of questions and challenging their logic, such as the widely believed statement that privacy is a prerequisite for consciousness that is more accurately the other way around. What he means by consciousness is the self-efficacy of our own thoughts, emotions and well-being. However, as social media has amplified within the last decade, this self-awareness and subconscious has slowly been digging away, as “everyone knows everything about everyone” now and privacy has now constructed itself into a non-existent void that we can no longer trust to hide ourselves in.

Published science fiction writer and UCR alum Howard V. Hendrix asserts that consciousness is a prerequisite for privacy, as it takes effort to keep information to ourselves in a world dominated by social media and technology.
Catherine Yong/HIGHLANDER

Taking a tender and more personal approach to the improvement of the human condition was Lesley Yadon, an entrepreneur of her self-titled life coaching business for first-time mothers. From the start, she gripped the audience with a voice-quivering, moist-eyed anecdote of an experience she had breaking down in front of her son, followed by a series of thoughts that revolved around her head as it occurred, such as “I’ve lost my shit” and “Something’s fucked up about me.” Her story hit close to home as it related to motherhood and marriage, but the approach she took to the natural anxieties that affect first-time mothers was inspiring: She realized the need to trust life is just as important as the need to trust relationships despite the risk of getting hurt and being in pain. That was when she quit her full-time job and created her life coaching business, making her happier with and more fulfilled by her career than ever before while also having the time to spend with her son and husband.

A common message throughout all of the talks was the need for empathy in times of personal distress, as individual healing can be amplified by demonstrating compassion and love toward others.

Ground-breaking professor of psychology and neuroscience at UCR as well as director of the Kids Interaction and Neuro Development (KIND) lab Kalina Michalska made an ambitious statement that the treatment of aggressive children should be more empathetic toward the individual patient’s needs and to be more attentive to the causes of the behavior rather than punitive actions. She placed the subject of kids with a trouble-making tendency into perspective by explaining that there are biological precursors to aggression and oftentimes, the authoritarian responses to these aggressions are not helpful. For instance, she shared a story of a nine-year-old aggressive male patient who entered an MRI scanner and began to throw a tantrum. In response, his mother began to hit him. Then, Michalska projected an image of an MRI scanner as well as the loud, blaring noise it creates resemblant of an ambulance. “You have to stay in there for an hour,” Michalska explained to the horror of the audience. To prevent any misconceptions surrounding aggression, Michalska also clarified that it is not only males who are aggressive, but females can be aggressive too. She then shared a chart that revealed that crimes committed by females regarding weapons, assault, vandalism and disorderly conduct has risen by up to 40 percent since 1980. The understanding and proper treatments of these patients can be amplified if we not only become more compassionate ourselves but teach the patients to be more sympathetic in the process of doing so. “We’re punishing them, incarcerating them … without really explaining to them why or providing a context. The more compassion we show in this world, the more we will also teach them to care about others.”

The performance of the night, which also served as the closing act, was by flutist and music lecturer William Yang, who first performed a heartfelt flute rendition of “All of Me” by John Legend. As it related to what he would discuss later, the performance contained no words but was rather sung by the voice of the flute. Yang described the particular feelings elicited by the flute was due to a concept called tone colors, which are the physical characteristics of certain sounds. He demonstrated the emotions that certain tones can carry with them by playing “Colors of the Wind” from “Pocahontas” and offering that even without the words, one can interpret the song as being about empathy. Indeed, the song would be different if the lyrics were sung but without feeling, with Yang comparing such music with Google Translate merely reciting a list of words. Before performing a flute instrumental of “For Good” from “Wicked,” a song about cherishing the people who both enter and exit your life in parallel to the appreciation one puts into the vocal singing of a song, Yang expressed, “Life is like a song: You can sing it with lyrics or sing it with tone colors to amplify your voice.”

Flutist and music lecturer William Yang vocalized his emotions through the melody of his flute and taught about the multiple platforms through which music impacts our actions and relationships through tone colors.

A variety of both professors and independent entrepreneurs demonstrated the individual power we hold to create something exceptional despite doubts and difficulties that may come in the way. A common message throughout all of the talks was the need for empathy in times of personal distress, as individual healing can be amplified by demonstrating compassion and love toward others. Fourth-year English major Astere Ellen reflected, “I think people have empathy but show it in different ways. Sharing personal experiences is scary but the presenters were bold and brave in providing them.”

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