Fridley grad takes world stage at annual TED Conference

When Annika Paulson stepped onto the stage of the 2017 TED Conference at the Convention Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, she looked out at over a thousand people – with hundreds of thousands watching live online and in select movie theaters worldwide – whispered “okay,” took a deep breath, and began.

For nine minutes, the 2016 Fridley High School graduate held her audience in rapt attention before bringing the attendees to their feet in ovation. Back at Fridley High School, Paulson’s family, former teachers and classmates joined in cheering her on as they watched in the school’s auditorium.

Annika Paulson, 2016 Fridley High School graduate, speaking at the 2017 TED Conference in Vancouver, British, Columbia. (Photo courtesy of Bret Hartman / TED)

Sharing a bill with such notables as Serena Williams, Elon Musk, and Pope Francis, Paulson was one of 70 speakers at the annual conference, featured short but powerful talks. Her presentation on April 26 elicited favorable responses on social media forums, including one from President Barack Obama’s former Special Assistant, Jonathan Greenblatt, who posted on Twitter, “You will need to see the @TEDTalks on @YouTube to appreciate #bravery & #melody of Anika Paulson. She got a deserved standing O at #TED2017.”

The presentation germinated in Tim Leistikow’s Theory of Knowledge, a class that is part of the International Baccalaureate curriculum at Fridley Public Schools.

Paulson was working on a concept that music is an internal life force. She confided in Leistikow before sharing it and doubted that anyone would like it. With Leistikow’s encouragement, Paulson presented her first TED Talk to a classroom of peers and a video camera. That footage ended up being seen by the people at TED.

Paulson was invited to speak at the first ever TED-Ed Weekend in New York City in December 2016. It was there that her presentation impressed Chris Anderson, TED Curator, so much so much that he invited her to speak at their annual conference.

“I got an email from TED-Ed asking if I was free some time to have a phone call with them,” Paulson said. “In the phone call, they asked if I would want to and be willing to give my talk on the TED main stage, and I was in shock, never in my wildest dreams had I imagined myself giving a talk on the main stage.”

Leistikow is at no loss of words to describe how proud he is of his student. “The first time I heard her give the talk, it gave me goose bumps,” he said. “Annika didn’t really need me or the class to create that. I’m just glad we gave her the platform to take on a creative, project-based type of assessment.”

In her speech, Paulson makes note of a music teacher in high school whose influence had a profound effect on her way of seeing the correlation of music to her life. That teacher is Michael Pearson, director of bands at Fridley High School.

“Some really common questions that are asked of us as teachers are things like ‘What is your greatest accomplishment?’ ‘Why did you go into teaching?’” Pearson said. “I realized when I was watching Annika that it’s when our students find the potential we, the teachers, see for themselves.”

“It’s amazing to think I might’ve had a little hand in lighting the fire, but it’s all her,” Pearson said.

Potential is one of the characteristics Paulson points to for each note of rhythm that comprises her life. She says all you have to do as an individual is add the melody.

An addition to her original presentation in Leistikow’s classroom spoke of how life had changed since going away from home to college. Though her internal music changed for a while, she re-found it and has added to her personal melody.

Music is my way of coping with the changes in my life. There’s a beautiful connection between music and life. It combines us with reality at the same it allows us to escape it. Music is something that lives inside of you. You create it and you’re created by it.

“It’s insane to think that I had something to contribute to such an amazing conference, that I could fit in with this incredibly intelligent, inspirational, and innovative group of speakers,” Paulson said. “I had been told so many times that the TED audience just wants you to succeed, they’re there for you and they’re all rooting for you. All they want is to hear what you have to say.

Paulson is completing her freshman year at the University of Minnesota – Morris, where she is studying biology and music.

Contact Sam Lenhart at [email protected]