"You don’t have to get it all right in the beginning. Don’t let perfection get in the way of progress," said Green Beret veteran Nicholas Ward.
Ward’s message was to the people who filled the Colvard Student Union Dawg House Friday for Mississippi State University’s first TEDx conference, which focused on "Moving Forward."
The event gave people like Ward a platform to speak and share about important topics, such as not being overcome with obsession, what it means to be successful and finding one’s pace through life, among other things.
Ward’s speech, "How I Lost My Obsession and Found TBI," chronicled his journey in the U.S. Army Special Forces and how he received several traumatic brain injuries before he could begin a career he had obsessed over for years.
"I spent seven years and 183 days in the United States military, and every single one of those days I was either thinking about being, trying to be or being a green beret—to say I was consumed would be an understatement. I was obsessed,” Ward said. "I picked the highest mountain in the business that the army had to offer, and I went after it head on. Earning my Green Beret was the single greatest accomplishment of my life, other than convincing my wife to marry me."
During his first training operation at sea, on the first large wave his team hit, Ward was thrown over the boat and knocked unconscious in the water. Thirty minutes after his teammates pulled him back in, he was struck under the chin with an engine.
On shore, Ward was assessed to have a possibly severe head injury, but not taken to the hospital. The next day, woozy and concussed, he stepped into a van and smacked his head on the door frame, which caused him to fall and hit the back of his head on the concrete.
Ward said after those several traumatic brain injuries, the symptoms still remain. He has been prone to anger, paranoia, hallucinations and nightmares.
"The person that went out on that ocean, never came back … I didn’t fight with the enemy overseas, but I fight with myself in my head every day," Ward said.
Last year, Ward became medically retired, and said his obsession was over. While he would never wish the symptoms or pain on anyone, Ward said he spoke at TEDx in order to reach out and encourage others.
"The symptoms had got the best of me, and they did continue to get the best of me until now. I am doing better; I am progressing," Ward said. "What continues to make me better is helping others, and that’s what I’m here trying to do … If you have these symptoms and these injuries, it’s going to be OK."
Other TEDx speakers included senior English major Will Textor, who read his original poems "Abbatoir" and "Shadowplay;" MSU computer science major Brady Kruse, who spoke about "The History of the Future: Why Science Fiction Matters;" Starkville High School student Hannah Jian, who presented on "Running Toward Happiness;" MSU Associate Professor of civil and environmental engineering Veera Gnaneswar Gude, who talked about the "Future of Sustainable Homes and Communities;" and Olympic medalist Danielle Scott, who shared how "Awkward is Your Superpower, Use It for Your Olympic-Sized Pursuits."
Additionally, Kolie Cruther, an MSU graduate of electrical engineering, shared the story of his career switch from being an engineer to authoring self-help books based on the scientific principles of electromagnetism. The title of his talk was "The Science Behind Mental Toughness."
"No matter how unfair or unpredictable life can be, there’s one thing that life cannot take away from you, and that is your willingness to give your best effort using whatever means you do have available in that moment," Cruther said. "In other words, if you can fly, then fly; if you can’t fly, then run; if you can’t run, then walk; and if you cannot walk, then crawl … If you don’t quit, you have a power that’s on your side."
Following Cruther’s speech was Madison Grant, a senior business administration major and CEO of Jitterbeans, a coffee company. She spoke on how life is like running a 5K, where some moments are slow and hard to get through, but others seem to pick up speed and whiz past.
When Grant found a love for coffee and came up with her business idea of having a coffee truck, her life took off.
"When I finally had this idea, I found that there was hope for the future, there was more ideas within me and passions developing," Grant said. "So, my life began to pick up speed. I was finally walking faster and jogging."
Grant’s friend and TEDx attendant Laken Jones said she thought the conference went smoothly, and she was interested to see a platform given for new ideas.
"I think (the first session) went really well," Jones noted. "I can tell a lot of the speakers really value success, but it’s so weird how even though all of them value this idea of success, it looks different in all of their lives."
The conference, which is slated to become an annual event, was about a year in the making, said Avery Ferguson, senior English major and vice president for TEDx at MSU. Ferguson echoed Jones during the break between sessions, saying the first part of the event went well.
"The first half has been great so far. It has really set the tone for the whole night … All of our speakers have done amazing," Ferguson said. "They’re prepared for this and ready to share their passion about these things, so we knew that they would follow through and be great. We’re glad to finally see it all come together."