Justin Klausner had planned to spend this year shagging fly balls in the outfield for Agoura High’s baseball team.
A global pandemic hit. The Charger’s plans took a belly flop into a wood chipper.
Instead of moping around the house and snacking on super bonbons, he got productive.
Klausner, 17, organized a TEDxYouth event—called TEDxYouth@AgouraHills— with seven teen speakers, six of which are Agoura High students.
After more than two months of planning, the students will record their speeches Friday at an indoor venue in Pacoima. The talks, which will be recorded under strict social distancing guidelines, will be streamed online from noon to 3 p.m. Sat., Aug. 22. If all goes according to plan, the talks will be posted on TED’s YouTube page, which has 17.6 million subscribers.
“During the coronavirus, one of the best things we can do is to connect the community and give us hope,” Klausner said. “We want to show that even in tough times, there’s still a light. We want to showcase these students and their perspectives.”
Klausner, an honors student with a 4.45 GPA, has a passion for public speaking.
He’s delivered two Charger Talks, the school’s equivalent of TED Talks, on baseball. He discussed the potential negative long-term effects of enormous contracts handed out to superstar athletes. In his other Charger Talk, he argued that the Houston Astros cheating scandal would be good for the game.
“Why I love TEDx so much is you can make bold predictions and offer bold perspectives without being heavily criticized,” Klausner said.
There will be a cornucopia of perspectives and topics discussed, but the impact of the coronavirus ties everything together.
Sophia Lieberman, an incoming Agoura High senior, is a speaker and producer. She will share a personal story about an undiagnosed learning disability while advocating for mental health awareness.
Lieberman, like Klausner, has been an instrumental member of the project. In addition to speaking, she helped organize the event, and she’s in charge of filming and editing.
“This has been something awesome and eye-opening for me,” she said. “I’ve definitely put in a lot of work, but it hasn’t felt like work to me. It’s been fun and exciting.”
Lieberman is co-president of the Jewish Student Union on campus. She’s a volunteer who’s logged more than 500 hours of community service, including roughly 190 hours in the past year. She’s a volunteer student teacher at Temple Or Ami in Calabasas and a counselor at youth retreats.
The teenager said she’s excited that Agoura students have a platform to share their ideas.
“It gives voices to people who otherwise might not have an outlet to get their message across,” Lieberman said.
Twin sisters Rachel and Jacqueline Fox will also speak.
Rachel Fox, an incoming Agoura High senior honors student who plays softball and the alto saxophone, will discuss the scientific and ethical conundrums of gene editing.
“I am the type of person who wants to understand the why behind everything,” she said. “When I read a fact or statistic, I want to find out how did this fact come to be or why is this true; if it’s not true, how can this problem be fixed or what can we do to change something.”
Jacqueline Fox, a member of Agoura High’s dance team who plays the flute and piccolo, will talk about how social media is affecting history in real time.
The Charger said she’s noticed seismic changes in how teenagers use social media. Instead of simply posting pictures with friends, teens are using the platforms to learn and speak up about current events.
“I want to stress that it’s important that students use social media for good action,” Jacqueline Fox said.
John Geeson, an Agoura boys’ cross country and track and field runner, will compare fantasy football to the stock market and discuss how football will excel financially and economically in the long term.
Tyler Humphries, one of the best girls’ basketball players in Acorn country, will talk about how competing against boys fuels her competitive drive.
Madelyn Setser, an Agoura girls’ track and field athlete and International Baccalaureate student, will talk about what home means to her.
Bay Area resident Chinmayi Balusu, 17, is an undergrad student at Columbia University. She will break down neuroscience and compare it to a board game. Balusu is founder and CEO of the student-run nonprofit Simply Neuroscience, an organization dedicated to fostering students’ interests in the brain.
Klausner has brought all these students together.
“We rely on each other, and everyone’s doing their own part,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot more work than I expected, to be honest. TEDx has a lot of rules and standards, and I have to go through and make sure each talk and slideshow follows the rules, guidelines and copyright rules.”
Klausner, who plays the baritone saxophone, volunteers three mornings a week at the West Valley Food Pantry in Woodland Hills. He is the youth director for Agoura PONY Baseball Association’s Champions Division for special needs athletes.
He would like to study political science or history in college; his dream school is Brown University in Rhode Island. His cousin Matt Byer, a former Oak Park High football and basketball star, played football and graduated from Brown in 2018.
“I love what I’m doing right now,” Klausner said. “As opposed to writing and talking, I’m organizing and going over each talk with each presenter. I give my ideas and my input to all these presenters.”
It beats chasing fly balls under the hot sun.
IN A NUTSHELL
Justin Klausner, 17, an incoming Agoura High School senior, organized a TEDx Youth event with seven speakers, including six Agoura students.
The talks will be recorded this Friday in Pacoima, and streamed to the public on Aug. 22 at www.tedxyouthagourahills.com.
Agoura students Sophia Lieberman, twins Rachel and Jacqueline Fox, Tyler Humphries, John Geeson and Madelyn Setser will give talks on various topics. Columbia University student Chinmayi Balusu, who hails from the Bay Area, will also talk.
Klausner plays baseball and the baritone saxophone at Agoura, and he also volunteers with the West Valley Food Pantry and Agoura PONY Baseball.
Follow sports editor Eliav Appelbaum on Twitter @EliavAppelbaum.