Local high school student discusses organizing a TEDxYouth talk

TAKING CHARGE: A longtime viewer of TED Talks, Mahayla Jones, a student at The Franklin School of Innovation, discusses her recent role in organizing a local TEDxYouth talk. Photo courtesy of Jones

Mahayla Jones, an 11th grader at The Franklin School of Innovation, is matter-of-fact when discussing her leadership role in a recent TEDxYouth gathering put on by her school and hosted at N.C. Stage Company. 

Jones, the co-executive director for the Feb. 20 event, shared responsibilities with fellow friend and classmate Sarah Williams. Like passing the Olympic torch, Jones says the school’s previous co-executive directors — students Brody Sandier-Williams and Kylee Roark — mentored the two throughout the process.

The conference featured eight speakers, whom Jones and Williams worked directly with on this year’s theme: curiosity.

Xpress spoke with Jones as she was preparing for the event.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Xpress: Tell me about some of the most memorable talks you’ve worked on for this year’s conference.

Jones: This year, we have a person talking about fixations and hyperfixations and how that leads to career paths. When you fixate on certain things, they can become obsessive, and you can turn that obsessiveness into passion. I deal with that. I think a lot of youth today have that issue with obsessing. I think it’s going to be really impactful to take that and move it into a career. I think that’s good advice. 

What’s your fixation?

I am into history. I hyperfixate on certain historical events and I research them. I am writing my college essay on the Roman Empire and how that connects with my life. 

How does it connect with your life?

I’m originally from West Virginia, and when I moved here, my entire world fell like it did with the Roman Empire. I was left with a single brick, and that brick is my mother. And I built my entire new empire with this one brick. I’m forever grateful for that one experience. In this great kingdom, we’ve learned so many things. 

Do you think this interest in history will lead to a specific career path?

I’m going to study biological anthropology, which will lead me into med school. I plan to be an OB-GYN.

Had you heard about TEDx before your friends got involved?

I had. We would watch them in school. But I never knew it was a nonprofit or that students could run it or that the speakers were just regular people. I had no idea. 

What have you liked most about being co-executive director this year?

I’ve had to think a lot about myself because I’ve had to trust other people. If it goes badly, that reflects on me. So I’ve had to put trust in myself and in other people. That’s been really good for me as a person.

What’s been the most frustrating part?

People not turning their stuff in on time. I’ve been guilty of that myself. 

Did you try and get friends involved in the event, and were you successful?

I have two of my friends speaking in this year’s event: Kathryn Dalton and Eamon McCorkle. Eamon is speaking about astrology. It’s going to be awesome seeing my friends talk about something they’re passionate about. 

What else should people know about TEDxYouth?

It’s really important as a community that we come together. We have young people, we have adults of all ages and all walks of experiences. It’s really good for our community to have that opportunity to sit and listen. That’s how you grow as a person and as a community.

What other extracurricular activities are you involved in?

I’m on the community council where we plan school events. I’m head of the prom committee and fundraising for that. I’m also involved in yearbook and student government, and I’m looking to start my own nonprofit revolving around women’s health. 

Do you have time for school?

Yes, I have eight classes and a couple at A-B Tech and I work on the weekends at Old School Subs on Sweeten Creek. It’s my parents’ restaurant. 


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