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Cancer survivor to speak at TEDxUSF



 The theme for this year’s TEDxUSF event is “limitless", a term Emily Pickett, a USF student and cancer survivor, embodies.

Pickett will speak at Wednesday’s TEDxUSF event about living life through a different lens, alongside five other speakers, one of whom is also an undergraduate student at USF.

Pickett lost her eye to cancer. She said in her speech she will share her experiences with the audience, as well as talk to them about how they can grow through a traumatic experience such as the one she went through.

Pickett was sent the application to speak at TEDxUSF by a professor who said Pickett would be a great speaker. She got the application in August. The deadline was late October. Pickett said she spent a lot of time deliberating on whether or not she wanted to speak.

“I was going back and forth, like, ‘This is a lot of pressure, do I really want to do this?’” she said. “Speaking in front of a large group like TEDxUSF I have never done before, so I just said, ‘When am I ever going to get this opportunity again? If I get it, I get it. If not, it’s OK. I’ll get another opportunity.’”

Pickett didn’t have to wait for another opportunity because her application was accepted. She was picked out of 57 people who applied.” Pickett said she hopes the audience gets from her speech that dwelling on things that are out of their control isn’t going to get them anywhere.

“My biggest thing is, if there’s nothing you can do to change the circumstances in your life, why stress or be upset over it?” Pickett said. “I would never choose to take back having cancer because I’m able to inspire people around me and I’ve grown so much as a person from it that I would never take it back.

“I can’t sit here and I can’t cry and I can’t say, ‘Why did this happen to me? This sucks. This could’ve happened to anyone else and of course it happened to me.’ But you can’t dwell on things … You can’t dwell on negativity that’s going on in your life if you don’t have control over it. You have to make the best of it and you have to create positivity from it in order to grow and move on.”

Pickett worked on her speech for months, from her start in November to her final draft completed March 1. She has been memorizing and making new drafts the whole time. She had teachers look over it and critique it. She’s had meetings at least once a week since the beginning of the semester. She practiced at least three times a week and is now, as the event approaches, practicing every day for the last three weeks.

“I keep finding copies of my speech just lying around,” Pickett said. “I’ll like find it under my bathroom sink and in my car. I’ll just find copies and copies and copies.”

She is nervous to speak in front of the audience, as she is reciting her speech from memory. She is worried she might leave something out that she really wants the audience to take away from the speech. However, she said she needs to follow her own advice and not dwell on it too much.

“I’m sure the adrenaline from being up on that stage will kind of mask the nervousness and that’s what I’m hoping for,” Pickett said.

Her biggest goal is to go viral with her speech to be able to reach a larger audience and inspire more people. The success of her speech, she said, is personally helping someone through it.

“If someone, if one person who is either at USF or is either watching this online can just be inspired and have my message reach to them, then I will be so happy,” Pickett said. “For example, someone whose parents are getting a divorce. OK, there’s nothing you can do, my parents are getting a divorce. This really sucks, but how can I create a positive thing from this.”

She wants to kick off her public speaking career this way, as it is something she really enjoys, and she also wants to make sure she savors the moment. For her, the community at TEDxUSF and involvement in the event has helped her grow as a person, as a speaker and as a writer.

“They’re so great and they’re working so hard to make this event happen and it’s amazing to watch,” Pickett said.

She said she’ll have a support system in the audience in her sorority and family coming in from out of town.

She said she has a privilege in having a voice in a responsibility to use it to speak on behalf of those who don’t feel comfortable talking about their experience with cancer. Through doing the talk, she has been reliving her experience with cancer.

“So that’s been really hard but what will make it worth it will be being on that stage and being in the moment and looking at everyone in the audience who is there to support me and just being an inspiration for little kids who have gotten diagnosed with retinoblastoma or leukemia or anything,” Pickett said.

Other speakers at this year’s TEDxUSF event include Yasmine Ezzair, an undergraduate student majoring in chemistry; Nick Joyce, a staff member at the USF Counseling Center; Marleah Dean Kruzel, assistant professor in health communication at USF; Sal Morgera, professor in electrical engineering at USF; and Bernd Reiter, professor of comparative politics at USF and graduate director for the School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies.

TEDxUSF will take place in Wednesday in the Marshall Student Center Ballroom at 6 p.m. Tickets applications are closed but there will be a standby line at the event for those who don’t have tickets.