Scholar Speed Round: 2009 Bezos Student Scholar Blake O’Connor

Catch up with a student Scholar and read their rapid-fire responses to a collection of semi-random questions in the Scholar Speed Round.

By Blake O’Connor, 2009 Bezos Student Scholar

3 mins


Since attending Aspen Ideas Festival in 2009, Blake has dedicated himself to the field of education as a student, researcher, consultant, educator, and coach. Focused on early literacy, his Local Ideas Festival, “I Feel the Need to Read,” galvanized various groups at his high school around creating a book drive, read-aloud visits to local Title 1 second grade classrooms, and a Dr. Seuss-themed literacy festival.  

The program continued for eight years and even inspired other Tampa, Florida, high schools to launch similar literacy programs. As a Robertson Scholar, Blake focused his studies at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University around child and family policy, education and neuroscience. Blake has spent half of his professional career partnering with public school districts to implement digital solutions for high-needs and special populations.  

Blake is the Director of Education at the Polyvagal Institute where he oversees the development of the institute’s online courses. Blake discovered polyvagal theory through his mom who researched support for Blake’s brother who is autistic. As an impassioned student and teacher of polyvagal theory, Blake believes healthy social connection is essential to optimal wellbeing and social change.   

Currently, Blake lives in Denver, Colorado, with his partner, Zeke, and their dog, Kuzco. Blake is a certified yoga teacher and devoted Ashtanga yoga practitioner. He loves any excuse to get outside and is grateful to live next to the Colorado Rockies. To stay active, he enjoys playing in the Denver Gay & Lesbian Flag Football League. 

Here are 10 semi-random questions and answers with Blake: 

Share a favorite memory from when you were a Scholar:Staying up until the sunrise to make this YouTube video and soak up as much love and fun as possible with my fellow scholars. 

Complete this sentence, “If you really knew me, you would know….” I can spend too much time stylizing, formatting and quality-checking a slide deck. 

If you had a theme song, what would it be and why? "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap because it's more about how the song feels in my body than how it sounds in my head. 

Reflecting on a challenge you have faced, what was a choice you made during that time and the change that occurred because of it? For some time, I worked in an environment that took advantage of my insecurities and ambition. I read a quote by Don Migual Ruiz along the lines of "you accept a level of abuse up to the level that you abuse yourself." The next day when I went into the office, I communicated that I was leaving my position. This was the first step towards a healthier and happier me. 

Scholar’s choice: What is a book that you recently read and recommend? "When We Cease to Understand the World" by Benjamín Labatut.  

At this moment in your life, what are you most proud of? I am most proud of the trainings I led, the relationships I formed, and the impact I had while working at Breathe for Change. While working there, I taught educators practices from ancient and modern lineages of mindfulness, yoga, and wellness. 

If you had a podcast, what would it be about? My podcast would be about contagiously embodied leadership.  

Describe the last time you remember feeling truly joyful. My last moment of true joy happened last week at the Polyvagal Institutes first annual gathering. At this event I was able to watch speakers, collaborate with my team and connect with attendees.  

When was the last time you felt vulnerable in a good way? I made a new friend recently and I shared my experience with impostor syndrome with them.  

What is the one thing you’re deeply grateful for right now? My partner had knee surgery recently and during his postoperative period, I provided the care he needed. This experience made me particularly aware and grateful for my physical ability as well as my mental health.  

We’re grateful to have you as part of the Scholar community. Thank you, Blake!