In the spirit of sharing ideas worth spreading, Wesleyan students hosted the third annual TEDxWesleyanU conference on April 16–17.
Titled “(Un)Knowing,” the event’s speakers included:
- Alford Young Jr. ’88, professor of sociology, Afroamerican and African studies, and public policy at the University of Michigan
- Field Yates ’09, NFL Insider for ESPN and co-host of “Fantasy Football”
- Emily McEvoy ’22, College of Social Studies major, 2021 Student Speaker Competition Winner, and Middletown Mutual Aid organizer
- Gato Nsengamungu ’23, physics and government double major from Rwanda
- Doug Berman ’84, two-time Peabody Award-winning producer of NPR’s “Wait Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me!” and “Car Talk”
- Rob King ’84, senior vice president and editor-at-large for ESPN content
- Candace Nelson ’96, entrepreneur, pastry chef, TV personality, and New York Times best-selling author
- Pablo Wickham ’21, neuroscience and theater double major, 2021 Student Speaker Competition Winner and 2021 Jamaican Rhodes Scholar
- Abby Govindan, standup comedian and writer
The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are organized by campus sponsors.
In addition to the nine speakers, the conference featured a virtual scavenger hunt, informational break-out sessions, musical interludes, and a Wesleyan Student Band Music Festival.
“We hope that these talks will not only spark a new idea for you or offer a fresh perspective, but will inspire you to embrace the liminal process of ‘unknowing’ at Wesleyan,” said Catherine Cheng ’22, 2021 TedxWesleyanU licensee.
Christopher Noh ’24 hosted TedxWesleyanU from the Memorial Chapel. “Our theme ‘Unknown’ was inspired by the unprecedented events of 2021. The past year has shown us the importance of innovation and adaptation,” Noh said. “[Our] phenomenal lineup of speakers will help us explore the unknown, the uncharted, the undiscovered, and the unlearned. Our speakers will share ideas that will bring us closer to—or perhaps further from—this idea of unknown.”
Catherine Cheng ’22 was the 2021 TedxWesleyanU licensee. “At Wesleyan we can all fall into our bubbles, but brilliant ideas—like these presented at this conference—can help us center.”
Alford Young Jr. ’88, professor of sociology, Afroamerican and African studies, and public policy at the University of Michigan, presented a talk about the struggles for Black men. “Black men are too often presumed to be disinterested in politics and civic affairs. However, I have found that many are deeply expressive about such matters in social spaces. In barbershops and community institutions, they comment about how much they feel uninvited to—or unrecognized in—formal political arenas, and many choose not to vote or participate in formal political spheres.”
Field Yates ’09 presented a talk titled “Growing in the Media Space.” “As I look forward in my industry and work my hardest to be a consistent, reliable, and insightful television presence . . . it’s apparent now more than ever that an open mind and dedication to exploring what is new is essential,” he said. “The world of media is ever-changing with more waves ahead of us. Keeping up with those changes and continuing to maximize output within them presents a perpetual challenge, but we feel ready.”
Emily McEvoy ’22 spoke on “COVID-19 and the Liberal Tradition: The Roots of the American Failure.” The “best part” of working with the Middletown Mutual Aid organization “has been helping people to realize that communal care is something we do already and it spans all political ideologies on our limited American spectrum,” she said. “We have no choice but to have empathy for those around us. Communal care is the antidote to liberalism in a society where everything is a private good. It’s also the anecdotal liberalism of the individual, where we care about ourselves at the expense of all else. We can all be agents of change in our own communities.”
Gato Nsengamungu ’23, who grew up in a small village in Rwanda, presented a talk titled “Pride, an Asset for Humility and Human Flourishing.” “Recognize that it’s not you alone; it’s the people around you who have helped you to succeed,” Nsengamungu said. “Respect everybody because they have contributed to your success. You have a reason to treat everyone equally. To me, treating everyone equally, respecting everyone, is the true beginning of humility—the true beginning of human flourishing.”
Doug Berman ’84 spoke on “Engineering Meets Creativity: How to Improve Innovative Work.” “Creating things, creating art and culture, or a business—it’s full of self-doubt. It’s chock full of failure. Even if you get to the end you have to deal with critics or customers. But if you succeed, you can change the way people think and feel—and you might even do it for the rest of their lives. So stay at it and I’ll look forward to seeing whatever it is you guys create.”
Rob King ’84 spoke about the “Awful In Between.” “Don’t be in a hurry. That might run counter to [what] you might have heard growing up about ambition and hard work and certainly in having a plan,” King said. “I get [that] both things are all wonderful, but don’t be in a hurry to win. Your journey is unique and powerful. It deserves focus, success, and failure, and it deserves the ability to laugh at oneself.”
Candace Nelson ’96 spoke on “Play to Succeed: How to Let Go of Hustle Culture and Increate Innovation.” “Start doing something different. Unexpected. Something that brings you joy and pleasure,” Nelson advised. “It doesn’t even have to be anything you’re good at. The messier, the better. Coloring, a game of cards, even capture the flag. Take your pick and while you’re enjoying yourself, you could very well be unlocking the next big innovation.”
Pablo Wickham ’21 asked, “In the picture of the pandemic, how do you go from feeling lonely to finding peace? How do you find solace in solitude? Remind yourself of your purpose, and to successfully do that, be confident in who you are. Take a step back and discover and re-discover your identity.”
Abby Govindan spoke about “Using Humor to Heal.” “Every single person in the world has some sort of trauma,” she said. “No one is exempt from this universal human experience. You can mentally agonize over every little thing that happens to you, or you could joke. Jokes are a shortcut to the elemental truth that suffering is inevitable. When you use humor to help yourself feel, you are allowing yourself the luxury of hoping for a better tomorrow.”
Wesleyan student band Toxic Holiday provided a musical interlude between speakers.
During the conference’s Student Band Music Festival, several students shared samples of their music, including singer-songwriter and blues guitarist Max Morton ’24.
David Vizgan ’21 and Eric Lindheim-Marx ’21 (Érèbe) are members of the band Lake Ontario Surfing Club, an “ambient sludge metal band searching for the unattainable.”
Wesleyan student collaborative Babebee and Cicero Presley performed “The Moonshine Song.”
During a TedxWesleyanU interactive session, participants could sign into a series of bonus talks and informational sessions. Belle Brown ’22 provided a short set and represented Wesleyan’s standup comedy club, Awkward Silence.
The 2021 TEDxWesleyanU team includes Catherine Cheng ’22, Shayla Zhen ’23, Mohona Yesmin ’23, Beyza Koc ’24, Sara Greene ’23, Sanni Zhang ’22, Rachel Liu ’22, Shweta Kondapi ’24, Mason Martell ’24, Izzy Durcan ’22, Grace Higgins ’24, Bryan Do ’24, Ishani Dave ’24, Maya Verghese ’23, Alejandra Sanchez ’22, Will Wallentine ’23; Payal Sreewastav ’23, Gavin Willis ’21, Natalie Selfe ’22, Rae Sustana ’24, Michael Tang ’22, Biren Pramanik ’24, and Serena Landers ’24.
Recordings of the speakers will be available at a later time.