Media Credit
TEDxWesternu, Bianca Jiang-Photography Manager, Chantal Hermetz-Photography Volunteer, Kevin Zhou-Photography Volunteer

TEDxWesternU Makes Its Mark on Campus

Alyssa Thu Mar 15th

Walking into a lecture hall on campus, it’s rare to find a room full of students fully captivated, phones down.

On Sunday, March 11th, this was the reality in the Paul Davenport theatre.

At 1pm, the TEDxWesternU team was busy setting up for lunch as speaker Nick van der Velde was talking over his fifteen-minute time limit. The team was managing to keep their cool and it was all smiles, as the conference was running as well as planned. 

The event, fully run by a diverse team of undergraduate and graduate students works alongside the university as well as staff from the TED organization who license the event and offer high-level administrative support.

The three staple colours of the TED talks were in abundance. Red, white and black pamphlets and tablecloths lined the tables, and the stage was beautifully set with glowing lanterns, a large red circle carpet, as well as dim black lighting.

Colliding worlds, explained by curator and first-year medical school student Timothy Varghese, is pretty much as it sounds - how varying ideas collide. The event hoped to challenge people's pre-existing thoughts and opinions.

“For instance, if I think that water is wet, that’s my world. Nothing changes that, but today, I come to this conference and someone tells me that water can’t be wet, this is the day that my world collides with theirs,” he explains.

Varghese has been involved in TEDxWesternU since it’s inauguration five years ago. The conference has taken multiple hiatus’ over the years, but after this successful event, he hopes it will become an annual production.

This year’s conference shared ideas from not only students of the university, but also community influencers, directors, professors and scientists. TEDxWesternU worked closely with the administration from Schulich who’d proposed a list of around 30 speakers selected by students and faculty.

The team then ranked the speakers into three tiers, the chosen nine speakers being in the top tier. “I was blown away by how many people are open to talking and sharing ideas,” said Varghese.

The host of the show, Erik Mandawe, a first-year medical student, kept the audience interested providing clear transitions between the speakers. He offered his own thoughts before and after each talk, merging his own experiences without feeling scripted or prompted by a teleprompter.  

In between certain speakers, three official TED videos were streamed. Although making sense as time fillers, the videos didn’t quite capture the audience as well as the physical speakers. It was rather apparent as eyes began to slowly drift around the room and eventually towards cell phones.

In order to keep delegates from sitting down all day, twenty-minute breaks were set every hour. In this break, delegates were invited to stretch their legs and allowed to walk onto the stage and have their photo taken. Discussing opinions and thoughts about the talks with fellow delegates was also pushed during these breaks.

Mandawe remarked that these discussions are what makes TED so important and special. “Those who stand behind us, those who taught us everything that we know, we are an amalgamation of that. That’s where we stand, and moving forward, we have an obligation to be the next generation of teachers and thinkers and part of that is the idea exchange,” says Mandawe.

Jeff Preston, an assistant professor of Disability Studies at Kings University College truly stole the show. Being the final speaker of the seven-hour day, Preston knew how to work the exhausted crowd. He immediately captivated and woke the crowd by cracking jokes and making light of his heavy speech regarding normalcy, and his research into normal and disability binaries.

The interdisciplinary speakers covered various topics while managing to engage the audience. Sacha Batia discussed how statistics could revolutionize healthcare, Syed Shoaib Hasan Rizvi inspired delegates to make changes in their communities, c, and Levi Hord, a fourth-year sexuality studies student, and Rhodes Scholarship Recipient, discussed the values placed on various types of knowledge, specifically on transgender studies and how it’s a social issue at heart.

Delegates were impressed at how interdisciplinary the talks were. “Different experts in their own field talked about how important education is, and how we should try to expand what we know by speaking to others in different fields,” said fifth-year interdisciplinary medical sciences student, Aayushi Joshi. “That’s what I find so interesting about sharing ideas. You can be an expert in your own field, but there’s so much that we don’t know about other things and the only way that we bridge these gaps, is by talking about other people."

Joshi encapsulated the mood of the day and everything that the organizing team and TED were going for. Delegates left the conference with new knowledge, as well as new friendships and understood that in order to further their learning, they must first challenge their opinions by discussing with others.

While students are in a stage of absorbing information, hearing informative talks challenges their compartmentalized ways of thinking and hopefully the TED talks will continue to provide a meeting place for brilliant minds of the future.