Thank You for Coming to My TED(x) Talk

By MOHITA ILAMURUGAN ‘24

(Links to videos for the talks presented at the TEDxEdisonHighSchool Youth event on 2/25-2/26 are included below for viewing.)

On February 25th and 26th, 2021, Edison High School’s iSTEM club, who partnered with TEDx for the first time early last year, hosted a TEDxEdisonHighSchool event. A TEDx is a local event hosted by volunteers with the approval of TED to share ideas from untapped creativity.

Emails and invites were sent out to the entire school to bring students and teachers alike to witness an evening of “perspective” and “social interaction,” said Aimee Jose ‘24. At times like these, social interaction seems necessary to obtain a sliver of the “norm” similar to the one before the pandemic.

“Worth it.”

There were many curation team members, curation team leaders, and speakers who made this event possible, 24 to be exact. Sunrit Panda ‘21, the founder of iSTEM club, had his dreams and hopes when he first applied for the TEDxEdisonHighSchool license. “I knew I wanted to go all out. This was going to be my final mark on the school, a night-long extravaganza of intellectualism. Well, the pandemic put those dreams to rest… only for a moment though,” said Panda.

He did not let the pandemic affect his dream of curating the best TEDxEdisonHighSchool event he could. “You see, instead of spending months designing the stage, hiring film crews, finding caterers, recruiting sponsors, and all the other shenanigans that go into creating an exceptional in-person event, I decided to focus on creating a large number of high-quality talks,” he said. In a “normal,” in-person setting, the TEDxEdisonHighSchool event would probably showcase four to five speakers. However, the curation team leaders and their teams managed to fit twelve.

“More than 100 [hours] per person” went into the creation of this event, said Panda.

“Many hours of sleep were sacrificed for this cause,” said Co-president Gunjan Adya ‘21. “Still, as I saw the event come together, I couldn’t bring myself to regret any of the effort I put in. I am so immensely proud of not only myself, but everyone who worked to make this event as successful as it was.”

Panda agreed. “And, I can say that it was completely worth it… As curation team members, we had an amazing time working with speakers. And ultimately, I got that big event that I’ve been dreaming of since last February,” he said.

The Co-presidents were overjoyed when they saw their curated speakers perform their talk. “It was the most exhilarating feeling,” said Panda, “You have to understand that many of these talks took many many many hours of work from ideation, to revisions, to editing, and more. So, it was confirmation of all that hard work seeing the speakers glowing as they spoke, and then the flow of amazing questions from the audience, and then the engaging TEDxCircles breakout rooms discussions. And for the speakers, I imagine it was also a confirming experience… namely the Edison High School alumni, just wanted to give back to the community that they graduated from.”

Some speakers talked about topics they have been immensely passionate about for a while but never got the chance to translate that passion into a tangible, final product. Other speakers summarized a lifetime of work and experiences into one concise, powerful video.

For Adya, a certain speaker came to mind: Dr. Damien Young. The blizzards that took place in January wiped out his connection with his curation team. Because of that, Young and his team only had one day to work on his speech together.

“Naturally, as the event crept up, we were quite worried,” Adya said. “However, when the time came for his talk, we found that he did an excellent job and it made for one of my favorite talks of the event. The combination of pride and admiration I felt at seeing the final talks from all of our speakers was strongest while I watched his talk: pride, because our team brought out ideas and polished them to help create the talk, and adoration, because the ideas presented, were of course entirely the speakers.”

Connection & Inspiration

The speakers were just as important as the curation team and staff. Ms. Jada Tulloch, a speaker at the event, is an advocate and public speaker for anti-racism, whose viral instagram video sparked a change in outlook of racism in many people.

“I felt really honored and grateful to be able to share my story with young high schoolers… it was really nice to share my story with such an eager and interested group,” said Tulloch. The TEDxEdisonHighSchool event gave her an opportunity to spread awareness of racism and how it could be stopped. According to Tulloch, most people usually were not very positive about her advocacy, so she was slightly frightened of how the audience would react to something so personal and dear to her. “… [I reminded] myself that this was a safe space for conversation and education helped ease my nerves,” she said.

Tulloch’s speech received many questions and queries of how the audience could help advocate for anti-racism. “I was extremely happy and inspired when students asked me questions and wanted to know more about how they could help with my cause and advocate for anti-racist education,” she said. “The fact that my story inspired others to also speak up, feel empowered, and find ways to make a difference in their own lives and communities, really motivated me to keep fighting for what’s right.”

Not only did Tulloch motivate the audience, the audience also managed to motivate her. “The event attendees truly inspired me and restored some of my faith in the future of education,” she said.

The pandemic caused strong connections between people to wither. However, this event helped revive the feeling of talking, debating, and discussing intellectual ideas with intellectual people.

“School and quarantine have made it more difficult for me to reach out to people and provide anti-racist educational resources or support to minority students,” said Tulloch, “so it was nice to be able to connect with people for this important cause again.”

The Fruits of Labor ~ “I would love to attend another event like this.”

Jose, who was part of the audience for the TEDxEdisonHighSchool event, voiced her approval and appreciation. She discussed the speakers’ stories and their impact on her. “When I heard the different stories and experiences of the speakers I felt inspired to go out and pursue the ideas that I am passionate about… It made me feel determined to go out and try to make a change in my own way,” said Jose. The TEDxEdisonHighSchool event was truly “inspiration at its finest.”

Jose said that some of the “best parts” were the organization, thought, and effort put into the event. “This event was organized very well. From the Zoom set up to the presentations, the leaders of the event made sure to give us the best experience.” Jose said. This event increased the communication and social interaction between people that was stunted when the pandemic struck.

“Hearing stories from other people ignites a new motivation and interest in me,” she said.