TEDx speaker profile: Nikki Adeli, 17
TEDxPhiladelphia runs Friday at Temple University in front of a sold-out crowd. The theme is Philadelphia as the New Workshop of the World. This is one of several Q & As with scheduled speakers.
Nikki Adeli, a 17-year-old from the south with an Iranian heritage might not seem to fit the prototypical profile of a Philly-born teen. But, remarkably poised for her age, she’s taken to her adoptive city with zeal and says she’s found a true home here.
Adeli has also grown up watching TED Talks and credits many of them with changing her life. A junior at Science Leadership Academy, she also serves as Youth Commissioner to Mayor Nutter, advising on decisions impacting youth with an eye to improving their lives in the city.
She also is called to testify at public hearings on issues regarding children and teenagers. She is fluent in Farsi, the native language of her parents who emigrated to the U.S. from Iran. She studies Spanish at the Academy and is learning Arabic on her own in her spare time.
Philly.com spoke with Adeli earlier this week.
Philly.com: Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Adeli: I’m originally from Mississippi, though I don’t sound like it. I moved to Philadelphia in the 6th grade. My mom and dad don’t have a southern country accent so I was never exposed to the accent at home. My parents moved to the U.S. from Iran to pursue their own education. I think it’s because I watched so much Reading Rainbow as a child that I developed my own accent before going to school.
How did you become to be chosen as a speaker for TEDxPhiladelphia?
I nominated myself for it! My principal gave a talk during the last TEDxPhiladelphia, so I knew about the local conferences. But my first exposure to TED happened when I moved here to Philadelphia. I had a bullying experience and there were rumors and lies going around. I was intrigued about why someone would lie, and my sister showed me a TED Talk about “How to Spot a Liar.” I watched it and was hooked. After that I had subscriptions to TED on my iPod and iPhone.
Have you made any special preparations for the conference?
Not specifically for the talk. I feel comfortable with it, it’s everything I believe in and and been saying about reforming education. I think its very authentic. Today I’ve been working on my slides so that there’ll be a good visual representation to run with it on Friday..
What in education would you change so that Philadelphia might become the “New Workshop of the World?”
I’ll be focusing on real world applications and how there’s a lack of it in the schools right now.
Can you be more specific?
Once, the purpose of education was to prepare kids for farming and working with their parents. We’re not farming any longer as children. But the point now is to grow a model citizens and prepare them to join society.
Our education system hasn’t been focusing well on the child and the classroom. The focus is now on competition with other schools.
What made America so great was the focus on individual. Here, you had the opportunity to better yourself and become who you wanted to be. You wouldn’t have to fit to a standard.
As a teenager you’re supposed to finding yourself and making mistakes. But if we’re solely focused on teaching to standards, are we creating robots? We’re not really focusing on bettering the child and their interests.
In my talk I offer a call to action, it’s kind of a surprise.
Do you have favorite TED Talks?
Chimamanda Ngozi's "We should all be feminists" is by far my favorite. It’s a TED Talk I always quote from. There’s another, about a woman’s poem to her future daughter (by Sarah Kay) I like, too. It was about how she could be her own self and that there are no reasons to cater to anyone else’s needs. Another was given at TEDxTeen this year by Timothy Doner, a teenage polyglot. He was talking about how if you speak someone’s second language it will be incorporated into their brain. But if you speak their native language it will be connected to their heart. It was a different aspect of language I hadn’t considered before.
What’s been the best part of the experience for you leading up to the TEDx conference?
I think the most important part is the ability to have my voice heard. All 20 of us come from very different backgrounds and parts of the city. For the conference we are coming together as one. Every talk is all very different. For instance, someone is focusing on accessibility and another is talking about skateparks.
We have a long way to go as a country, but also as a city.
Not only is TED putting the spotlight on people who are making change, but I see each TED Talk as a tool. You provide the idea not only to make some sort of change, but also to inspire someone to create change for themselves.