As Part of Her Ongoing Mission to Protect Children, Ashleigh Clyde ’25 Delivers Her First TEDx Talk

As Part of Her Ongoing Mission to Protect Children, Ashleigh Clyde ’25 Delivers Her First TEDx Talk

Academics, Accolades and Awards, Community Outreach, Research, Testimonials

April 1, 2024

As Part of Her Ongoing Mission to Protect Children, Ashleigh Clyde ’25 Delivers Her First TEDx Talk Ashleigh Clyde '25 TEDx

In 1996, University of Colorado Professor Alex Molnar wrote Giving Kids the Business: The Commercialization of America’s Schools, which its publisher Routledge calls “the first book to both document the commercial invasion of public education and explain its alarming consequences.”

As a high school student in Northern Virginia, Ashleigh Clyde ’25 discovered Molnar’s research as her passion to foster safe spaces for young people began to emerge. Clyde was particularly disturbed by what she describes as “child-based marketing and the insidious strategies corporations use to target children.” Her goal to bring attention to the issue became the basis for her presentation “Willy Wonka’s Worst Nightmare,” which in the spring of 2022 won first place in original oratory at the Virginia High School League forensics state championship and subsequently earned commendation from the Virginia House of Delegates.

While interviewing Molnar, Clyde says he encouraged her to continue seeking ways in which she could broaden the audience for her message. “He felt that more people needed to learn about what he what he termed ‘schoolhouse commercialism’,” she recalls. She recently took a significant step in that regard when she delivered her first TEDx talk, “How Corporations Sell Stuff to Your Kids.”

TEDx is an offshoot of TED, the nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation “devoted to curiosity, reason, wonder, and the pursuit of knowledge – without an agenda,” the organization’s website notes. TED grants free licenses to organizations around the country to host live speakers under the TEDx banner, and more than 3,000 events are held each year.

“I had followed TEDx since high school,” Clyde says. “I found out there was actually a TEDx group in Warrenton, Virginia, near my home, and they were looking for speakers. I thought, ‘Why not apply?’”

Clyde took part in a rigorous vetting process that included multiple interviews and “a whole lot of essays and assignments. TEDx emphasizes that they want experts from particular fields. One thing I made sure to mention was that I am by no means an expert in my field, but what makes me stand out as a speaker is that I am a young consumer myself who has firsthand experience with those marketing tactics. They felt that was a unique appeal, and they also liked the fact that I wrapped my message around Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” the 1971 film starring Gene Wilder that is based on Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (The book was later adapted into a 2005 film, also called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and inspired the movie Wonka, starring Timothée Chalamet, which was released in December.)

“How Corporations Sell Stuff to Your Kids.” a TEDx talk by Ashleigh Clyde ’25, has received more than 20,000 views on YouTube.

Ultimately, Clyde was among 14 speakers selected from 115 applicants to participate in TEDxWarrenton 2023, which was held in October.

In her TEDx talk recorded before a live audience at Laurel Ridge Community College, Clyde explains that “while Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory may not be based on a true story, its entire essence is more legitimate than you think. Our own world is no stranger to Willy Wonka and his tactics used to lure children into the holds of a company or product.”

Clyde continues, “Corporations are seeing ample opportunity to take advantage of the overwhelming fact that children are vulnerable. Child-based marketing is not just about selling products, but mindsets as well. Kids may not have money, but they influence their parents’ buying decisions and they are likely to keep wanting to use a product if they genuinely enjoy it. This is known as brand identification. Marketing research has suggested that brand identification is essential early, because it’s more potent later on. Let us not forget that children are the future consumers, the very lifeblood of corporations.”

It is incumbent upon all facets of society, Clyde argues, from parents and educators to policymakers, “to ensure that the sweet innocence and pure imagination of childhood are not tainted by corporate agendas. We must protect and empower the future leaders of our world.”

“How Corporations Sell Stuff to Your Kids” has thus far attracted more than 20,000 views on YouTube. It has also been named an Editor’s Pick, a designation recognizing “new, inspiring talks from TEDx’s global community.”

Over the past year, Clyde, who is majoring in business, has expanded her advocacy for children in other venues. “My twin sister Kristine, who also attends Hollins, said to me, ‘It would be cool if you and I started something’.” Together with their mom, they decided to create a resource for kids who wanted to get the most out of prayer as they grew their Christian faith. The result, The Adventure Prayer Journal for Kids, was independently published last June.

“My sister did the graphics, my mom served as editor, and I am the COO,” Clyde says. “It’s been cool to see how a lot of people have realized there’s a gap in the market for this kind of book, it’s very unique. I’m really proud of it.”

Clyde has also launched her own video podcast. Ashleigh ON AIR welcomes influential figures from an array of fields including movies, television, politics, and business. To line up guests, she’s drawing upon the contacts and networking skills she’s cultivated since age 16 when she became an entertainment reporter and film critic.

“I just interviewed the original voice for Dora the Explorer,” Clyde relates. Another podcast episode that she’s especially excited about features actress Calah Lane, who recently enjoyed her breakout movie role in 2023’s Wonka playing the African American female lead, Noodle, opposite Chalamet. “She’s a new character who helps Wonka throughout the movie. We had a really great conversation.”

After graduating from Hollins, Clyde plans to attend law school (she has applied to Columbia University Law School) and then embark on a career in broadcasting. She plans to use her platform to spread financial literacy in underserved communities.

Clyde cherishes the backing she says she’s received from her professors at Hollins, especially Assistant Professor of Business Lucas Long and Associate Professor of Economics Pablo Hernandez. Long, for example, was instrumental in arranging Clyde’s visit to Columbia University last fall. He led a group of students that included Clyde on a field trip to New York City, where they explored the world of business and economics.

“It was a great way to immerse myself” in Columbia’s environment, Clyde states. “It broadened my perspective.”

Clyde says she’s thrilled at the opportunities she’s been able to experience at Hollins and is grateful for the role the university has played in bringing them to fruition. “I just always feel very supported. That’s the thing about this campus, I feel like I can do more because I have the support here.”