Friday, April 15, 2011

Reflections on TEDxUofM

I want to follow the footsteps of Jameson Toole and talk about a fantastic event that we were at recently. Last Friday (a week ago, already!), I was invited to speak at TEDxUofM, an independently organised TED event. TEDxUofM was completely student organised and executed. They did an absolutely amazing job. I want to thank Tom Crawford, Alex O'Dell, Kelsey Rhodes, Poonam Dagli, Alyssa Ackerman, Jane van Velden, Lia Wolock, Peter Kovits, and especially Victoria Johnson for all of the help and encouragement that they gave me leading up to and during the conference. I wouldn't have been able to do it without them. It turns out that it was the largest TEDx conference, ever. I am grateful for the opportunity they gave me; it was a wonderful experience, and the biggest honour I could imagine. The theme for this year's conference, staged at the Michigan Theater, was "Encouraging Crazy Ideas." Here is a beautiful video speaking about the event.

 Also check out the amazing intro video, all hand drawn, that was played at the beginning of the conference.
Michigan Theatre (from
The speakers were absolutely amazing - doctors and musicians and illustrators and humans rights advocates. Donia Jarrar was one of the speakers. She's a musical composition student here, and she talked about her efforts in translating voicemail messages of people in Egypt during the recent revolution there. 
Donia Jarrar
Chris Van Allsberg talked about the story of the woman who decided to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel.
Chris Van Allsburg
Jared Genser talked about his efforts to free prisoners of political dissent, all over the world. All of the speakers were current or former University of Michigan students or professors. Everyone had a connection to this incredible town, Ann Arbor.

I personally spoke about the power of individual action in combating large problems. Here is a picture that was put in The Michigan Daily. The "crazy idea" that I tried to communicate was that we don't need crazy ideas. We know all that we need to know to make huge strides towards treading lightly on this planet. (I will post the video as soon as it comes online.)
What was interesting about the topic of the conference, "Encouraging Crazy Ideas," is that each and everyone one of us is empowered to make the choice of truly committing to changing the status quo. This was reflected by all of the other speakers that spoke at the conference. Hopefully, such sentiments are the seeds that will grow into meaningful change in our world. As Erik Torenberg reflected in The Michigan Daily today,

"A completely student run event [like TEDx] is a crazy idea. Their phenomenal performances show what can happen when you put talented students from diverse backgrounds together for a common goal. There are more people who would like to make amazing things happen. Some were in the audience, some weren’t. 

At the reception following the lectures, I realized I wasn’t the only one who was inspired. Some friends and I talked about exciting things we could do within our organizations and on our own. We kept building off each other’s ideas, offering enthusiastic support and feedback. The energy was palpable. 

But what will happen next week when exams and papers consume our minds? What will happen when people tell us to be practical, and play it safe? Will this rekindled belief in our abilities to make something great happen fade? 

My friends and I spoke about this with some of the speakers and organizers of the event for more than an hour. How can we maintain this community of students, professors and alumni who want to make a big difference? Should it be organized formally or should it continue organically? How will we look back at TEDx in a few months? Will we see it as a genuine, perhaps revolutionary, call to action? Or merely a one-day performance?"

All I can say is that if you are willing to live the change, you will always find support, especially in a place like Ann Arbor.

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