The Union St. Journal: Cherry Creek High School's official news source

Union St. Journal

The Union St. Journal: Cherry Creek High School's official news source

Union St. Journal

The Union St. Journal: Cherry Creek High School's official news source

Union St. Journal

Freshman Michael Zhang Overcame Video Game Addiction and Found Professional Opportunities in TED

Courtesy of Michael Zhang
Freshman Michael Zhang MC’s his 2023 TEDx CherryCreekHS event, an event he plans on re-hosting in August 2024. He’s enthusiastic to help Creek students experience the same benefits he got when he gave his own TED talk about video game addiction. “I feel like students could benefit from it because they can spread their ideas, and we’ll help spread them.” Zhang said.

On a dark stage, in the middle of a bright spotlight, standing on a big red dot, freshman Michael Zhang gave his first TED talk. It was at the March 2023 TEDx CherryCreek Youth event in Brighton, Colorado, and it was the moment that his passion for speaking was kindled.

He had a lot to say, and some hard-won advice to share.

Zhang developed a video game addiction as he got older, an addiction that peaked when the world descended into COVID lockdown. “My teachers frequently got mad at me and I was sent to the dean multiple times,” Zhang said. “Eventually I realized I had a problem, and with parental support, I was able to break away from game addiction.”

For a time, he was self conscious and ashamed of his problem. That is, until he encountered TEDx.

TED, the organization that invites professionals to speak on issues pertaining to their field, has a division called TEDx. It allows for independently organized events, and it was at one such event that Zhang’s fervor was sparked.

“I mentioned that businesses should be held responsible and there should be limitations on video games,” Zhang said. “And I gave a brief description of my own story and how I overcame it.”

He saw support and encouragement in the community, and it was his fellow speakers that made him so enthusiastic.

“After the event, my peers were extremely supportive and they made me feel like I was not the problem,” Zhang said. “Instead, I was helping [others get past addiction].”

This community drove him to apply for a youth license to run a TEDx event. As an eighth grader, he used his license to bring TED to Creek. He noticed the online footprint TED had – and he wanted to provide that opportunity to CCHS students.

“I got over 30,000 views [in my own talk],” Zhang said. “And that really showed me that TEDx is a huge platform, and that’s why I decided to bring it into my own community.”

One of the speakers at his event, author and social strategist Nick Shelton, noticed that Michael’s demeanor and age heavily contradicted his personality and willingness to put himself out there.

“Michael is very organized and he is dedicated. It’s very impressive,” Shelton said. “He’s more composed and has an engineering type of mind and thought process but it works out really well…making sure that all the boxes are checked and the i’s are dotted and the t’s are crossed.”

Zhang’s insight, and the fact he could put together a complex event at a young age, amazed Shelton. When he brought his stepkids to TEDx CherryCreekHS 2023, he used Michael as an example for them.

“I showed them and said, ‘look what he’s able to do. You can do stuff like this,’” said Shelton, amazed by how a middle schooler could piece together a complex project. “These events are really difficult to pull off because there’s so many parts that you have to try to organize.”

Zhang’s Differential Equations teacher Robert Matuschek has seen the same precocious skills in class.

“He’s not your typical student that just grinds through the homework,” Matuschek said. “He really thinks about what the problems are about. And he thinks deeply about connections and applications [of those problems].”

Matuschek regularly shares his experiences he’s had after attending Creek with his students; and Zhang was particularly inspired by Matuschek’s phase of hopping professions before going to college.

“I’ve had a very interesting path to becoming a teacher and I’ve had 40-50 jobs in my life,” Matuschek said. “I made this list [of those jobs] once and I shared it with the kids and it’s really interesting how some of them gravitate into some of those jobs.”

Those stories have helped Zhang understand the value of experimentation and adventure.

“He said that at Creek, we feel obliged to go to college. And he felt a little bit rebellious at first, and he went to Alaska to fish for a while,” Zhang said. “That experience really called to me because experiences are valuable and not everyone has a chance to do [that].”

Between the inspiration he got from Matuschek and the skills he developed through school and TEDx, Zhang is respected by his entire team, even the professionals.

“The speakers who were much older than me respected me,” he said. “This was a unique experience for me to have that recognition and respect…It was a good experience, knowing what a leader really is.”

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About the Contributor
Peter Philpott
Peter Philpott, Managing Editor & Assistant News Editor
Hey there! My name's Peter, I'm a sophomore, and I'm the USJ's managing editor and assistant news editor. I believe that the first amendment is incredibly important, and as journalists we have the right and the duty to uphold it. I am very passionate for news reporting, from small, local issues, to major politics or systemic change topics. This is why I love political/breaking news reporting, and one day I hope to be an investigative journalist. I also enjoy artistic photography in my free time. I play trumpet and mellophone and I am part of Creek's Marching Band. I'm enthusiastic to inform this school on the happenings of our community, from Capitol Hill to the quad. Also, check out my column, Peanuts and Cracker Jack, where I talk about in-depth baseball!

To contact me by email, access my portfolio, or view my photography Instagram account, click the respective buttons below.

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