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Meet Carole and Jim Young, the Couple That Brought Us TEDxSMU

As many of you know, tomorrow is TEDxSMU. As you probably already know, tomorrow will be executive director Sharon Lyle’s last TEDxSMU. (Don’t worry–it will be in good hands under the guidance of Heather Hankamer.) But what you may not know is how the conference got to Dallas. You can thank Carole and Jim Young for that. In our December issue (on newsstands now), I write a little about how they accomplished getting the conference here. The story isn’t online, so take the jump to read about the Youngs.


Carole and Jim young are escorted to a side room in Union Station. Jim, 76, in a suit with a plaid shirt underneath, leads the way. Carole, 73, in her pink jacket, black skirt, and low heels, hops over a wad of cords lying in the middle of the floor and scurries around a toppled-over chair. The couple has spent the past 76 minutes listening to 11 speakers audition for a chance to present at this month’s TEDxSMU. The 11 speakers asked the audience to rethink issues affecting the city. The 100 or so people in the audience voted on their favorite, while three judges did their own deliberations. It’s the Youngs’ responsibility to count the ballots. And they have to hurry. The organizers have just been told that in three minutes, a wedding rehearsal needs the room.
Ten minutes later, the winner has been announced (Jeremy Gregg from the Entrepreneurship Prison Program won both the audience and judges’ votes), and the Youngs are taking a rest while Union Station employees buzz around them, transforming the room.
The Youngs have been married nearly 48 years. They would be the type of couple to finish each other’s sentences, if either of them could get to the end of a sentence. They’re often interrupted. A middle-schooler comes up to tell them goodbye; old friends reach in for a handshake; college students, who are part of the Carole & Jim Young Fellows program, tell them they’ll see them next week at breakfast. Carole and Jim hold center stage at any TEDxSMU event. They’re the couple who brought the conference to Dallas.
TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a nonprofit that started in 1984, with the tagline “ideas worth spreading.” The conference is now held annually in Long Beach and simulcast in Palm Springs. During the four-day conference, 50 speakers are given 18 minutes to talk on a theme.
Jim attended the fifth TED conference. At the time, he was the executive assistant to the chairman at EDS. He started taking the couple’s son, also named Jim, to the conferences and then their daughter, Kelly, too. Carole didn’t join them until several years later. “It was very, very expensive,” she says. (The conference now costs $7,500 per person.) “I thought it was a good investment in the kids’ education. I can see that. But when it came to me, I thought, I don’t know if I need to go to this.” (She was right about her kids. Kelly is the content director for TED.)
She eventually relented and, for the past 12 years, Jim has gone to Long Beach while Carole goes to the Palm Springs simulcast. It was at the conference a little more than three years ago that the idea of TEDx was introduced. The organization announced it would allow groups to apply for a license to hold their own community-organized TED. Six months later, with Sharon Lyle at the helm, the first TEDxSMU was launched. It was a success, even though Lyle had never attended a TED conference. “The first TEDxSMU was as authentic as if she had attended the TED conference as long as I had,” Jim says.
This is Lyle’s last year as executive director, but the Youngs are confident about the future. “If you attend TED, you’re considered part of the community,” Carole says. “They’re all a part of the TED community, and they’re bringing their friends into the community, too.”
Jim agrees. “The idea that’s worth spreading is spreading,” he says.