Photos: Bret Hartman/TED

Each year in Vancouver, some of the world’s biggest names take the TED stage to deliver talks. Few of those talks end with a standing ovation. But at the end of Dr. Ken Lacovara’s TED talk at February’s conference, the audience – which included some very high-caliber celebrities, leapt to its feet.

south jersey dinosaur digLacovara, a Rowan University paleontologist, led the effort to create the Rowan University Fossil Park in Mantua. Though he’s received national recognition for his work there, he was shocked when TED organizers asked him to deliver a talk.

Watch Dr. Lacovara, and see the fossil park, on “This is South Jersey” with Marianne Aleardi

“I got an email out of the blue last November asking if I would be a TED speaker,” Lacovara says. “Once I convinced myself it was a real email, and really for me, of course I said yes immediately.”

After months of writing and rehearsing his talk, Lacovara headed to Vancouver in February, where he spent the week getting to know his fellow speakers, including Al Gore, Norman Lear, John Legend and Shonda Rhimes.

“I think almost every TED speaker must go into the week with feelings of insecurity,” Lacovara says. “If you look at the list of current and past TED speakers it’s people like Jimmy Carter, Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking – how could you not feel like, ‘What am I doing in this room?’ But we really bonded, and really got to know each other. TED is really like a family. Once you’re in, you’re in. We set up a Facebook group of TED2016 speakers, and we’re already talking about getting together.”

Read the SJ Magazine story on the Rowan University Fossil Park from August 2015.

Lacovara says he was nervous just before his 16-minute talk, which covered his discovery of the mammoth dinosaur Dreadnoughtus and the improbability of human evolution.

“But once I got up there,” he says, “all the nerves just drifted away and I felt completely serene. I’m up there on that legendary red dot and I look to my left and there’s Cher, in front of me are Bill Gates and Al Gore, and there’s Harrison Ford off the right, but I’m just living in the moment, and thinking, ‘How great is this – I’m giving a TED Talk!’”


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