Selected From 200 Auditions

North Student is Youngest to Speak at TEDxAkron ... Ever
Posted on 03/21/2018
Image of Alejandra Trevino(courtesy Theresa Cottom, Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

For North High School senior Alejandra Treviño, it’s never too early to start thinking about death.

So when the opportunity arose to give a talk at TEDxAkron this year, Treviño knew what she wanted to do -- not just prompt others to think about their mortality but also change the way they view it.

“The rate of it is at a whopping 100 percent, and no one’s gonna be able to avoid it,” Treviño said. “But, for the most part, it’s not really about your death. It’s more about making your life mean something.”

At just 17 years old, Treviño will be the youngest person to give a talk April 21 at TEDxAkron in the Goodyear Theater, where she’ll weigh in on viewing death as a natural process and the burial practices that reflect that.

Death positivity
Treviño grew up viewing death differently than most.

She is influenced, in part, by her Mexican heritage, where death is faced head on rather than left unacknowledged. The culture respects, and even celebrates, the dead in a week-long holiday called Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

Her early introduction to the realities of death came from her cousin, who owned a nearby funeral home and crematorium. As a young teenager, Treviño witnessed cremations and went on house calls with her cousin, picking up bodies and consoling grieving family members.

“It was always a natural thing. I never thought it was something weird,” Treviño said.

Treviño has experienced the death of grandparents and, most recently, her family dog.

But perhaps nothing was more influential to Treviño’s view of death than a website she stumbled across last year that made her face her own mortality.

The website, called “The Order of the Good Death,” is “a group of funeral industry professionals, academics and artists exploring ways to prepare a death-phobic culture for their inevitable mortality,” according to its website.

Since then, Treviño has researched the “death positive” movement on that website and others, which encourages people to acknowledge, accept and even talk about their mortality rather than ignore it until it’s too late.

“For a while, I think the fear of death was really debilitating inside of myself. I didn’t really understand it for a while, and as a younger teen, I was kind of scared of it,” Treviño said.

Now, Treviño accepts that death is inevitable. Instead of being fearful, she chooses to focus on ways she can make a difference while living.

One of the ways she plans to do so is by becoming a forensic pathologist and medical examiner so she can make a difference in changing views on mortality beyond the TED talk.

“I think everybody wants to be recognized and known … another part of the fear of death is they’re afraid they’re gonna die and not have anything to show for it,” Treviño said. “But it’s small things, like just leaving the earth a better place than when you found it.

“This is about helping other people come to terms with who they are and try to find meaning in their own life, so that they can become as death-positive as I am.”

Changing opinions
Treviño hopes that by helping others view mortality differently, they’ll reconsider what to do with their bodies when they die as well.

Traditional methods of burial, like embalming the body and placing it in a coffin, use dangerous chemicals and can be harmful to the environment. Aside from the carbon footprint, Treviño also sees them as “kind of degrading … and more disrespectful than anything.”

Instead, she wants to promote less invasive and more eco-friendly alternatives, which include anything from water cremation to biodegradable burial pods that eventually grow into trees.

“Most people are very obsessed with preservation of the vessel rather than the actual spirit of the person. They’re not really thinking about what they’re doing to the corpse or the earth,” Treviño said.

Treviño is one of nearly 200 people who auditioned for this year’s fifth TEDxAkron, a branch of the national annual TED conference that brings local speakers together to talk about “ideas worth spreading,” said Sam Falletta, who founded the local event. Treviño is one of 15 who will speak at the event this year, and she is the youngest to have been chosen in TEDxAkron history. The full lineup can be viewed at www.tedxakron.com/.

“The fact that it’s a very unique concept, and really her ability to deliver it, kind of struck all the organizing crew as something that needed to be viewed by the rest of the community,” Falletta said.
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