June 08, 2016

TEDx Saved My Life — On-Stage Host David Van Veen
Category: 2016 Event, On-Stage Hosts


— TEDxMtHood is honored to introduce David Van Veen as our 2016 on-stage host. —

Last year, David Van Veen was the TEDxMtHood stage manager. It’s a demanding responsibility — so many moving parts, timing intricacies, and personality quirks have to be sorted out and aligned; and if anything goes wrong, everybody knows. That’s why, more than any other job, the stage manager is the toughest, most exposed job any TEDx volunteer can do… save one: on-stage host. This year, David will be our on-stage host; just one moving part but a greater challenge. And the story of how he got to this point, and what it says about you, the TEDx community, is itself an idea worth spreading. Here’s David, in his own words:

I grew up out in east Portland, now referred to as “The Numbers.” My idols are my uncle Mark and Grandpa Larry — both pillars in their communities. Yet, as much as I dreamed of being the same, I just wasn’t.

I vividly remember the moment when I hit rock bottom. I was in Eugene and back in college for the 3rd attempt at graduating, after leaving and returning to University of Oregon once again. I didn’t have money for a bed so I slept on a yoga mat that I had laid out under my fold-up computer table, in the room I rented from a fraternity. Curled up on that yoga mat, I realized that I hadn’t been to class in over a week and was about to fail out of classes if I didn’t drop them all and a feeling of deep, deep shame washed over me. This was not supposed to be my life.

When I finally found the motivation to graduate, some 18 months later (in a term that held double the course load of my colleagues across 3 schools), I immediately got a job at a web and mobile app development company as a project manager. There for the better part of three years, I struggled with depression the entire time — compounded by the stress of work, a growing company, and growing responsibilities.

On the outside I was a functioning member of society, internally I knew that I was lacking something we all need. I was lacking community.

In 2012, the TEDxMtHood website was assigned to me as a pro bono project that the company took on. I met with Michelle Jones, the license holder at the time, and Dianne Foster, a long-time TEDx volunteer and the current graphic designer and brand manager. I asked if I could come to a meeting, just to check it out. I wasn’t ready for what was to come.

While shirking responsibility at every step, I kept attending planning meetings. What I thought was just an event turned out to be a community that I could engage in. A community that accepted me when I was at my worst, and loved me when I was at my best.

I kept attending.

That year, I ran a camera. That was the meager amount of responsibility I allowed myself to take on, with the absolute fear that I would let everyone down with even that.

The next year, I ran a camera again. Still afraid. However, I contributed in other ways and I could be counted on to show up. I also got in to some therapy and figured out that I was depressed, but also started to work on those issues. (Sidenote: If you think you might also be depressed, please talk to someone.)

In 2015, everything changed. I left my stressful job, became more engaged with TEDx and took on the role of Stage Manager. I accepted what I was so afraid of: whether I was ready for it or not, I was a leader in this community and it was time I started to act like it.

I also joined other activities, such as World Domination Summit and Pioneer Nation — all found through my connections from TEDx. My community grew and so did my role in it.

Since I first joined TEDxMtHood, I have produced an event in Pioneer Courthouse Square, emceed a fundraiser to start a new college followed by jumping in a pool in my underwear, started a successful company, built online communities for people with chronic diseases, interviewed people I never thought I’d get the chance to meet, and met my best friend Phil. These are just some of the highlights, and all a result of that first meeting with Michelle and Dianne.

I now return for my 4th TEDxMtHood, this time as the on-stage host. I get to stand in front of all of my communities I’ve worked so hard to join and support and help present some of the best ideas coming from the pillars of our city. I’m so proud. Not of my success, but because of the rewarding nature of the journey it’s taken to get here.

Looking back, I have to say — TEDx is the source of nearly every good thing in my life. This is not just an event for me. It is a community, and just like my uncle and grandfather before me, I am a pillar in it.

Here’s to 2016!