Let’s talk: TEDx youth event soars

King Kekaulike hosts first student-organized TEDx youth event at a public school on Maui

King Kekaulike High School sophomore Aleth Sabugo speaks on “Biology is Diversity” at “Shaping the Future,” a TEDxYouth@KKHS event at King Kekaulike High School’s Performing Arts Center on Saturday afternoon. -- The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

PUKALANI — As diversity in America is being challenged by political leaders and activist groups, a King Kekaulike High School sophomore said eliminating minority groups would be like eliminating keystone species in the biological world, critically affecting the entire ecosystem.

“Do you have friends who are Mexican? Do you want them removed? I don’t think so,” said Aleth Sabugo, who like the 11 million Mexicans in America also immigrated here, found diversity and embraced it.

Sabugo, who was born in a small village in the Philippines, said that removing Mexican immigrants would hurt construction and factory jobs, which those immigrants often hold.

But there would be a trickle-down effect as the industries would suffer, not only the immigrants, said the 15-year-old at “Shaping the Future,” a TEDxYouth@KKHS” event at King Kekaulike High School’s Performing Arts Center on Saturday afternoon.

Sabugo compared removing immigrants to a study that showed that if the sea otter is removed, kelp forests would not survive, as the sea otters eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on the kelp.

Thorren Rebugio, a King Kekaulike High School student, gave a performance during “Shaping the Future,” a TEDxYouth@KKHS event at King Kekaulike High School’s Performing Arts Center on Saturday afternoon. -- The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo

“What if we applied it to the American population?” she asked.

She questioned what would happen if a race was removed.

“What would happen to the economy? What would happen to the people?”

Sabugo spoke on “Biology is Diversity” and was one of a handful of student speakers and entertainers at the event organized by King Kekaulike senior Bianca Vasquez Abarca. It was part of the 17-year-old’s senior project, designed to promote changes in today’s youth.

“I undertook this huge project in July of this year, as a way to challenge myself. I also wanted to share my love of spreading ideas which is why I applied for a TEDx license and was thankfully granted it,” she said in an interview.


The youth events are an offshoot of TEDx, a nonprofit that is devoted to the spreading of ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. It began in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converged, and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages, its website said. The independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world, according to its website. The youth events are designed for an often organized by youths.

At least 60 people attended the Upcountry event, including students, parents, staff and supporters.

Vasquez Abarca said the TEDxYouth@KKHS is the first student-organized TEDx event at a public school on Maui.

Her co-organizer was college and career counselor Jacqueline Zambrano. Also assisting was 17-year-old senior Eva Richards, who served as the speaker coach.

Other student speakers and performers included Nathan Vang, Nakoa Po, Kaden Gittens, Xiana Crenshaw, Thorren Rebugio, Jamin Welch and taiko group Zenshin Daiko.

During her presentation, Sabugo described her first encounters of diversity on Maui.

Back in the Philippines she said everyone looked like her, spoke the same language and had the same religion.

Coming to Hawaii, she saw people that looked different and had blue and green eyes.

“Everyone looked like an alien to me,” she said. “At that moment I realized (that) diversity existed.”

She pointed to her mother who cannot speak or understand English well. Her mother works in the fast-food business because of her language barrier. As other workers may labor in the fast-food field as a part-time or summer job, it’s her mother’s mainstay.

Sabugo called her mother the “backbone of that business” and a key employee.

She said not everyone may value various people’s positions, as she sees hate groups rising up every day. On Maui and in Hawaii, we see diversity, she said but worries what she may encounter if enrolling in a Mainland university.

But she looked to immigrant groups as ones that have held up the country.

“All of us were once immigrants. Therefore, whatever we are doing we are contributing to a better future for our children, for our country and for ourselves,” she said.

“That’s why I love my mom so much. Even if she doesn’t know it, she gave a lot to the business she is in. She is not the only one I want to thank. I want to thank all of you,” Sabugo said before getting emotional. “Because you cannot let anybody tell you, that you being different is wrong.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.