Pipe Dream spoke with Elisheva Ezor, a sophomore double-majoring in mathematics and business administration. Her talk, “Tales of a 6th Grade Revolutionary,” discusses overcoming fear, being overwhelmed and the story of her sixth grade revolution against a spelling bee. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pipe Dream: Why did you apply to be a speaker at this year’s TEDx event?
Elisheva Ezor: “First, I love public speaking, I have for a long time. It’s something I’m really passionate about. I go into this in my speech a little bit, but I have a couple of learning disabilities that impacted my ability to write and read, so speaking was always the way I was best able to communicate. Because I developed a really strong connection with this, I also had this confidence and connection to public speaking because I thought, ‘OK, I can use this voice that I’ve developed,’ because it’s really hard to speak out about things you care about. Also, I’ve always had a dream about giving a TED talk. My brother gave one last year. It was really cool to see him go through the whole process and I was really inspired by that. This is a story I’ve been wanting to tell for a while, I just haven’t found the right place. I thought about it for my college essay but it didn’t fit, and I tried a couple other times, but I didn’t have the right stage to present it, so I wanted a place to tell this story.”
PD: Could you tell me a little bit about what you do at Binghamton University? Does your occupation as a student relate to your TEDx talk?
EE: “It’s funny, the story’s about activism, and while I’ve been on campus, I actually have been involved in a couple of progressive things. I’m [in] a queer club, [Rainbow Pride Union] [and] I’ve been on E-Board. There’s just been things I’m really proud of, and I’ve took a lot of energy and pushing through to actualize. But I didn’t feel comfortable talking about them in the TEDx Talk because I thought this was personal to people who didn’t want their information out and I’m not using this talk to say, ‘Oh my god, I did this thing,’ those things I did because I wanted to do them and I didn’t want to commodify them through a speech. But because of those events through activism through school, it inspired me for this speech. Like the speech ‘farmed,’ because of a lot of my experiences at college. I’ve met some really great people here and I’ve gone to administrators about important conversations that I want to start and initiatives I want to enact, so those experiences have really shaped me as someone who wants to create impactful change. That’s what my speech is about.”
PD: Tell me what your TEDxBinghamtonUniversity talk is about.
EE: “It’s about a revolution that I had in sixth grade against my spelling bee. There were a couple other titles we were thinking of, like “Down with the Spelling Bee,” “This is a Democracy” and stuff like that, but I didn’t want to spoil that part of the talk. So ‘Tales of a 6th Grade Revolutionary’ is kind of a kitschy title for a kitschy story. It’s very cute, but it means a lot. I want it to feel like a book. It feels like a story, like if I was in sixth grade I would read a book called ‘Tales [of] a 6th Grade Revolutionary’ and think, ‘Oh, cool, what’s that?’ So that was where the talk title came from.”
PD: Why do you think it’s important for people to hear your talk?
EE: “That was actually a really big question that I struggled with because I didn’t want to come off as preachy, especially since this [talk] is so much about my personal experience. So I’m kind of viewing it as a performance art of, ‘I am an example of what I’m saying, and I’m proving it through speaking.’ I’m talking about speaking out about issues, overcoming fear and being overwhelmed in my speech. At the same time, I’m giving a speech where I’m feeling scared and putting myself out there to talk about issues. It’s just proof of concept. What the other speakers are talking about is so amazing and so informative, and I recognize that I’m coming from a very juvenile place in terms of, I’m only 20. I’m very grateful for the experiences I’ve had in my life that have shaped me and I love the perspective I’m coming from, but there’s also a lot of recognition in my speech that I have a lot to grow. The importance of listening to it is very much proof of concept and inspiration for other people. Especially for young people in the audience who are the same age as me, to be able to take that same step forward. This talk isn’t for me to be like, ‘Here’s a lesson.’ The lesson is for me.”
PD: How does your talk fit into this year’s theme of “Welcome to Tomorrow?”
EE: “I think a lot of young people can relate to what I’m about to say, but the world right now is so overwhelming. I hear so much where someone says an individual can’t make change or feels that way because the issues are so big. Like war, famine or the environment. These issues are so major. I’ve definitely had that ‘analysis paralysis’ where I’m like, ‘What can I do?’ So my speech is really about that moment, like the pinnacle of being stuck, but still having to move forward because the future, the change we want to bring and the tomorrow we want to bring can only happen if we overcome those feelings. If we look at people who protested for Black Lives Matter, and our protest here for ending Asian hate, everyone who went to those protests spoke up and shared their stories. That is how you bring a tomorrow you want to see. So I really see the foundation — I use language like moving forward, taking a step and movement language — because I think in order to shape what you want, you have to keep moving. If you stay stuck it’s not that you’ll be left in the past, but you’re going to be left in a situation where the future comes and you’re unhappy with it.”
PD: What do you hope the audience takes away from your talk?
EE: “Definitely good things, but I want them to get who I am. I want them to actually see me, but I also want them to see themselves. I don’t want it to be inaccessible. I want my story to be relatable. When I was working on my speech, I was working with one of the directors, Sofia [Fasullo], and there were points where she said, ‘Oh, I related to that one part where you talked about being overwhelmed,’ or, ‘I related when you said I don’t know what to do about the environment’ — things like that. There’s this one line in my talk where I say, ‘When surety disappears you still have to keep moving forward,’ when you don’t know what to do. And that, at least for me, is the message I want to relay the most. I think sometimes when you see activists, they seem so sure of themselves and so passionate, and it’s really inspiring. But even when I appear that way it’s not that I feel that way inside, but that certainty comes from knowing that it’s important to try.”