On January 28, TEDxUofT held its annual TED Talk conference at Isabel Bader Theatre. Centred around the theme ‘Catalyst,’ the all-day event was an exciting showcase of provoking and novel ideas from U of T’s community. 

According to its website, TEDxUofT is a student-run club consisting of 54 dedicated members who work tirelessly to “inspire and innovate within the university community” and to “spark conversation.” The organization runs several events throughout the year, including intimate networking ‘Salons’ and its annual TEDx conference. 

For the uninitiated, a TED Talk involves an expert delivering a speech on their area of specialty in an engaging and accessible way. Someone with a background in the arts can go into a TED Talk and leave with a firmer understanding of neuroscience. Ideas get to flow from field to field, generating new interdisciplinary possibilities. As Shivangi Roy, TEDxUofT’s speaker relations manager, described in an interview with The Varsity, “When you leave the [talk], you’re going to be that much more enriched and [able to catalyze] your personal development.”

The Isabel Bader theatre hosted the all day event. COURTESY OF TEDx UOFT

The planning for Catalyst took several months of hard work. Applications for the conference began as early as October. Roy explained that the club received around 300 speaker applications in total for the event. Out of the swathes of competitive prospects, the TEDxUofT team narrowed it down to a few speeches that they felt were the most impactful and relevant to the U of T community. 

Their efforts certainly paid off. On event day, the venue was packed to the brim with students, faculty, and alumni alike. Outside the auditorium hall were sponsor booths from Rexall and Manulife that handed out various goody bags, delicious snacks, and refreshments. 

This year’s all-day conference was broken into three parts and featured a packed itinerary of three artistic performances and nine talks.

The conference started strong with a performance by priyana, an award-winning Torontonian musician, who sang three of her original songs. After the mid-day break, Hannah Flores stunned the audience with her unwavering slam poetry about her struggles with identity and assimilation as a Cubana, in addition to performing an inspiring letter ‘to the only black person in the room.’ Finally, U of T’s Bhangra Club was the last of the conference’s performances, lifting the energy with a bedazzling, jumping dance to the skies. The inclusion of artistic performances helped refresh the audience after a long session of interesting but intellectually dense discussions. 

U of T Bhangara Club performs. COURTESY OF TEDx UOFT

This year’s speaker lineup was a wonderful reflection of U of T’s community. Porsha Taheri, the club’s chief of staff, explained that the speakers are broken down into two streams of students and affiliates, the latter referring to anyone connected to the university but not currently enrolled as a student, such as alumni, professors, etc. Platforming people in different stages of their lives allowed for a great range of experiences and perspectives to be shared. Highlights included a tongue-in-cheek presentation on charismatic storytelling by U of T student Soban Atique, and a riveting discussion on kindness in education by the beloved Professor Bill Ju from U of T’s Department of Human Biology. As a result of this diversity, each speech had a unique spin on the “catalyst” theme.

Organizers had allocated an intermission between every couple of performances for networking and rest. Eager students dressed in tailored blazers chattered about with industry professionals, filling the auditorium with an infectious hum. Not only was this event an amazing place to generate new ideas but also a way to connect with like-minded peers and industry professionals. 

The TEDxUofT’s team poses for a photo. COURTESY OF TEDx UOFT

During one of these intermissions, The Varsity spoke with two U of T students, Francesca Lisi and Huidan Zuo, about their thoughts on the event.

“We saw the [event] on Instagram and we grew excited for it… we were [drawn] to the scientific events, especially Professor Ju’s [discussion],” Lisi raved. “I also found Claire Zhao’s talk to be really insightful… we weren’t really knowledgeable of artificial intelligence (AI) and privacy. I think it’s a nice refreshing topic, especially when AI is everywhere now.”

Zuo also chimed in: “My favourite was Jessica Lim’s talk about attention. I like her style. She got my attention, and I really liked her story of how she got closer to her students and paid attention to their goals in education. It inspired me for what I want to do in the future. I’m also going to be an educator or work with kids.” 

Their satisfaction seemed to be shared by many. When the event ended, the Bader Hall was loud with excited murmurs and heated discussions about the ideas that had just been shared. 

Overall, the conference revealed how U of T students and affiliates have many creative ideas worth sharing, and was an impressive reflection of the university’s excellence.