ACE Student Empowers Others at TEDxChilliwack

Francis Oliver speaks on Youth Outloud at TEDxChilliwack

Francis Oliver speaks on Youth Outloud at TEDxChilliwack

Francis Oliver opens up about the road to TEDx and taking leadership to the stage

By Erin Knutson | BC Local News | Original Article

Francis Oliver a student at ACE sat down with The Observer to discuss the road to TEDxChilliwack and the discoveries she’s made along the way.

Oliver, joined up to tryout for TEDxChilliwack to improve her public speaking skills, and never thought that she would compete at a level that would see her all the way to the big event.

“I learned a lot about myself throughout the entire process, I learned that I’m someone who’s highly driven by deadlines, I learned that if I don’t have a deadline, it’s kind of a disaster,” she said.

Oliver found that she surprised herself in many ways, and tapped into a wealth of internal resources, discovering an acumen for the stage and public speaking that she had not accessed prior to her TEDx adventure.

“I wrote about six drafts of the speech in total and by the time the six one was done there was a week left, and I thought there was no way I could memorize the speech,” she said of preparing for her talk.

She took it to the next level by sleeping with a recording of her speech every night and rehearsing it every chance she had in her spare time.

“If I was not at work or school I was saying it over and over again, up until the day of, I wasn’t sure I had it and than it worked somehow — it was like magic, it was great.”

The 17 year old, has a hidden talent, she used to be a choir soloist and would often use the same strategy before performances.

“I would have a recording of the music and I would just play it over and over again, it was always in the background, so that’s how I would learn every song, it’s tried and true.”

Oliver’s speech was slightly different from the talk she gave at tryouts; she went from four minutes to 12 minutes, which would be a daunting amount of time for any speaker.

“I changed a few things like giving personal examples and backing everything up with scientific examples.”

Her speech was titled Youth Outloud, and she expanded on her original speech, by pointing out that what some people might see as limitations in life, can actually turn out to be gifts.

“One example was our frontal lobes because it’s known that the connection to the frontal lobe isn’t fully developed, which is often a risk to us (youth) because when we’re making decisions we don’t always think about the cause and effect in the way we should but it also in my opinion let’s us see without limits and then when we make the connections which do come, but a bit slower — it means we can dream bigger. We see more first and then we think about what we need to do to get to that point so that was something I really liked to highlight in my talk.”

Another important issue Oliver tackled in her speech was stigma and the importance of not succumbing to or endorsing labelling.

“I wanted to address labels and what we need to do to change them so that we can be respected,” she said, of her own experience as a student at an alternate school, who has overcome and continues to challenge labelling that would characterize alternate students as “the bad kids.”

Growing up is hard enough without the added, stress, of being labelled bad and Oliver and her peers, are sending the message, not just through their words, but through their exemplary actions and leadership in the community that those labels are false, unjustified, and simply untrue.

“The biggest thing I tried to get across was that if you give us a label that’s easy to live up to we have no reason to try hard — if you want us to be bad kids, it’s easier to be bad than to live up to being “good” and it’s easy to prove you right, so if you challenge us with better labels (or no labels) or set the bar higher, we will strive to achieve and meet that and we’ll surprise you with what we want to do to meet your expectations.”

ACE has come along way over the years, but despite its success, and the efforts of its staff and students, there is still some negativity floating around about the kids that frequent its halls.

Oliver shared a story about a fundraising effort that she and her peers undertook that was met with discrimination, after knocking on a door and not knowing that Oliver was from ACE, was told that had she been from the other school (ACE) there would be no donations.

“It kind of blew my mind because we were collecting food for community services and we were doing charity and I don’t understand that attitude because we were just trying to help.”

Youth deserve the opportunity to be championed and respected, they are at a vulnerable age, and to throw roadblocks at them by putting it into their minds at a young age that they are bad, flawed, damaged, or not enough, is not the way to go to raising healthy adults according to the teen activist. Oliver, has had to work hard not only to navigate her teen years which are difficult enough, but she faced the tragedy of her Mom’s passing a short while back.

Despite these immense difficulties, Oliver has taken on leadership roles, having won Miss Teen Fraser Valley, enrolling in the UFV coding program in a partnership with the Trades Program and SD78, and now she has taken the stage at TEDx to empower not only herself but those around her. She has taken her experience, and used a very public platform to get her message across, with the hope that she will inspire others to stand up and ignore the slings and arrows of labelling, which some might consider a form of psychological abuse. Oliver’s experiences have strengthened her and propelled her forward.

“There is that saying that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and that’s true, before all of this I was a really sensitive person and when I got to this school, I couldn’t be teased because I would immediately shut down and now I can goof off a bit with my friends, and I’m stronger against people’s words. I don’t really care as much about what people think anymore, and I think a lot of students feel the same.”

Most of all the experience was empowering for Oliver who hopes to go into marine biology, or a combination of drug and alcohol counselling combined with marine therapy that is offered with organizations like Oceans Global.

“I felt so empowered I had other youth come up to me afterwards and they were thanking me for saying things they wanted to say but couldn’t find a way to say,” she said. “People were coming up to me and asking how I got involved and I realized it was already making a difference and I was shocked by it and I found myself in a leadership role that I didn’t mean to stumble into but I’m glad I did.”