Powerful Moments at TEDxUofM

ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Nearly 1,400 students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members gathered on campus for a day of discussion around the theme, "Untapped."


  1. untapped_Potential: Mike Barwis, former director of strength and conditioning at the University of Michigan, has trained hundreds of college, professional, and Olympic athletes. But his talk centered on helping one man take one step. On Christmas Eve 2007, a car accident left Brock Mealer paralyzed fromt the waist down. Told he had a 1 percent chance of walking, Mealer worked with Barwis to grab that chance.
  2. After a few minutes, Barwis ended his talk and looked offstage. Moments passed and a silent audience erupted into cheers as Brock Mealer and Chris Williams, also formerly paralyzed, walked on stage.
  3. untapped_Freedom: Mary Heinen earned the second standing ovation of the day with her talk about our nation's problem with mass incarceration. She introduced the talk with several statistics. 
  4. But this wasn't a lecture; it was a story. And the story got personal when Heinen shared that she had been in prison. She entered at the age of 21, scared and remorseful. Gerald Ford was president, and the Vietnam War had just ended. She spent the next 26 years and 7 months inside. Michigan's governor commuted her life sentence, and she reentered the world in 2002. 
  5. Heinen described how groups such as Between the Bars and Nation Inside work to show the humanity of those in prison and address the concern of mass incarceration. She encouraged all to read and respond to letters that prisoners write and get posted on BetweentheBars.org.
  6. untapped_Respect: Chris Armstrong asked the audience to imagine what it would be like to hear taunts and curse words hurled your way every day. What it would be like to have people throw food and books at you and shove you against a walls because of the way you look, talk, or behave. What it would be like if every adult you turned to told you to stick it out, that life would get better one day.
  7. Would you take it? Or would you hit a point death seemed better than life under a bully? In 2010, a record number of youth hit that nadir and committed suicide. One of them was 13-year-old Asher Brown, pictured on the screen below.
  8. Armstrong faced his own battles with a bully. After the University of Michigan student body elected him president in 2010, the state's assistant attorney general, Andrew Shirvell, created a blog that attacked Armstrong. Shirvell accused Armstrong of promoting a "radical homosexual agenda" and called Armstrong "Satan's representative." Armstrong showed parts of Shirvell's interview on Anderson Cooper 360.
  9. CNN Official Interview: Andrew Shirvell of the blog 'Chris Armstrong Watch'
  10. Armstrong ultimately won a lawsuit against his bully, but acknowledged that, "not everyone gets the chance to sue their bully." He lamented the fact that he can't, in good faith, tell people who are bullied that life gets better. He told anyone who's being bullied to avoid responding to their aggressor and to find resources and support.
  11. Eighteen other speakers took the TEDxUofM stage to share their views on what lies untapped in our lives. Writer John Bacon illustrated how history isn't as simple as "Lincoln freed the slaves, MLK spoke, and Barack Obama became president." Visual journalist Oliver Uberti recounted his search for the peak age of productivity. Performance artist and scholar Gina Ulysse sang to the audience about her inner rocker girl's love of self and her anthropologist self's love of country. Evelyn Asultany explained why it's a problem that of the 900 Hollywood movies that feature Arab or Muslim characters, only 12 portray these characters positively. High school teacher James Robert walked the audience through his couch-filled classroom, where high schoolers explore answers to the question "Who am I." 

    Funny, heartwarming, and thought-provoking, the conference  encouraged all to explore the untapped in their lives, together.
  12. What powerful moments did you experience at TEDxUofM? What was your main takeaway? Share your thoughts in the comments below.