Ally Woodard, a 7th grader at Emerald Coast Middle School, was recently given an honor normally reserved for well-seasoned leaders from the fields of  technology, entertainment, design and human rights. 

She was invited to be one of seven headline speakers at a Dec. 1 TEDx event hosted at the world headquarters of Experian in Costa Mesa, Calif. The opportunity arose due to her reputation and experience for speaking with passion in front of audiences around the world as an advocate for children's rights as Ambassador for the Art Miles Mural Project.

"I knew about TED because one of my mentors, Joanne Tawfilis, won a trip several years ago to speak at a TED conference in Washington, D.C.," Ally said. 

The genesis of TED and its local affiliates with TEDx was in the Silicon Valley in 1984 with the mantra of "ideas worth spreading." Past speakers include Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Bill Gates and many winners of the Nobel Prize. Some of the notable early ideas unveiled at TED conferences include Google, and the first Macintosh computer.

The theme for Ally's TEDx presentation was the ties that bind children together worldwide, no matter their race, religion or geographical location. Ally said she was given guidance by the organizers of the event. 

"They told me to just speak from the heart. They said people wanted to hear about my experiences working with children in China, India, Haiti, Mexico and the Philippines, so I wrote about the amazing children I've met and what I've learned, which is that children like me want basically the same thing — a loving family, a chance to learn, to feel safe… and also a chance to just enjoy being a child.  So that's what I talked about."

Other powerful speakers included Joanne Tawfilis, executive director of the United Nations Association in San Diego, John Joliffe, senior advisor in global health and development for Jim Carrey’s Private Foundation, and best selling author and Huffington Post columnist Suza Scalora.

TED has grown in scope and influence since 1984.  In 2013 the non-profit will award a $1 million prize to a winner who has an idea that can help make the world a better place.  Past winners include Bill Clinton, Bono and E.O. Wilson.  When Ally's school ran an article about her TEDx experience, many of her classmates asked if she had won the million-dollar prize.

"I told them the people who had won were a lot older than me. Maybe 40 years from now I'll have a chance to do something like that." 

Until then Ally intends to continue doing what she loves. That means traveling wherever she can to help kids who want the same things she does, and to hopefully speak at another TED event to spread the message of peace and goodwill for children around the world.

"I just want make a difference," she said, "and TED is a way for us to do that."

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