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TEDxLaie conference teaches Hawaii is more than paradise through its history and culture

A speaker at TEDxLaie stands on the stage with the event logo in the background

Through months of hard work, the first TEDxLaie conference took place on Feb. 20 in the Hawaiian Journey Theater and organizers said it offered students, faculty, and community members the unique opportunity to hear about solutions to problems from speakers specialized in bettering the world and advancing human nature.

The curator of TEDxLaie, Cody Barney, a junior from Utah studying political science, shared how he has wanted to host a TEDx event ever since his first semester at BYU–Hawaii. Now in his fifth semester, Barney expressed how happy he is to see this dream of his realized.

Michael Kraft, a sophomore from Washington, D.C. studying communications, talked about the amount of work Barney put into this conference helped pull everything together.

“Cody was so instrumental in the success of TEDxLaie. Even though there was a lot of stuff that didn’t go as planned, it was really special to be a part of something that was received so well by the students and people enjoyed. It was great, and I really, really liked it a lot.”

Barney also praised his team of coordinators, “The devoted, small team we had [strengthened the conference]. It was a very small team, but we worked with what we got and did pretty great.”

Why TEDx

Barney explained his original purpose in creating TEDxLaie was to create a vehicle to share his deep love for Laie and the islands of Hawaii.

“I came here from the mainland, and I expected it to be a party. It was so much more than a party. It was about learning new lessons I hoped could spread across the world because most people think Hawaii is a place to go just for fun … I just thought this is my little way to help spread the message that it’s so much more.”

With this goal in mind, Mary Nixon, a freshman from Utah studying hospitality and tourism management, said she was able to learn much about Laie and the island of Oahu around her. “It was interesting because they talked about different topics that are relevant to here and this area in Laie, which was valuable.”

Preston Russell, a freshman from Wyoming studying biomedical science, said he was particularly impressed by how TEDx conferences give people a way to share their original ideas with a wide variety of people.

“I absolutely love the TED concept of giving people the platform to talk about anything they want to talk about. Obviously there are all kinds of specializations, but when people choose their own path for what they want to speak on, it becomes that much more genuine and that much more specific to what is real around us.

“When we give someone free reign, it develops much more organically and it develops into what is actually valuable rather than trying to get the topic to fit what someone else wants.”

Kraft also said this aspect of TED was what made him want to get involved, as well as to support Barney in this big undertaking. Kraft said he was honored to be a part of TEDxLaie.

“TEDxLaie was one of the best experiences I have ever had in my life. It taught me a lot about problem-solving, event planning, and working with others on a team for an extended period of time.”

The speakers

Barney said he went through a long process of reaching out to people to speak at the conference and had a bit of a tough time getting responses back. “I tried to get a lot of women and a lot of people from many different cultures, but people have to say yes and answer back to get in.”

As preparations for the conference finalized, the speakers at the conference were Richie Norton, Natalie Norton, Scott Asai, Alison Udall, J Eston Dunn, Jason Scott Earl, Avegalio Failautusi, Christopher Udall, Seamus Fitzgerald, Isaiah Walker, and Chad Ford.

Richie and Natalie Norton stand on stage with the TEDxLaie logo in the background.


Barney said he tried to pick people who were knowledgeable of what life is like in Laie and the surrounding area. He said he thought all the speakers were amazing, but Chad Ford, Seamus Fitzgerald, and Avegalio Failautusi were individuals he was especially excited to have attend.

About Ford, Barney commented, “Chad Ford’s talk is so relevant to today because of all the polarization happening in the last years of life. Because of this polarization, we need to practice the dangerous love that he taught.”

Similarly, Barney said he thought Failautusi and Fitzgerald’s speeches were essential to conservation and building respect for others because they were focused on solutions to world hunger and protests like the Kahuku windmills and desecration of Mauna Kea.

Russell and Nixon said Richie Norton and Jason Scott Earl stuck out to them because of how personal and relevant what they shared was for their lives.

Russell said he really enjoyed how Earl spoke about his family as his biggest investments and how that can translate best into college life.

Alison Udall gives her TED talk on stage.


“I think it’s really critical to how a community develops and how it continues to be self-sustaining. It’s a family level where you have parents teaching children, and grandparents teaching children and such as we move through life.”

Nixon also shared Norton resonated with her because of how much he spoke about setting goals and living in those goals. “He said to take out all of the steps between you and your goal, and you are already there. I think it’s kind of interesting that we have a goal set and that we think once we get to a certain point we will be happy, but it’s about establishing that happiness while you are getting to that goal.”

The future of TEDxLaie

With this first conference done and successful in his eyes, Barney said he looks forward to being able to host more TEDxLaie events in the upcoming years. He shared he hopes having regular events like this will only further knowledge about this great place he lives in.

“I think this is a good starting point, and the next one will be even better since we know how it works here and all of the different little kinks we need to work out … It went great, but we are just going to keep on going [and getting better].”

Watch the TEDxLaie talks on YouTube here: TEDxLaie Event