A day of ideas

Scienta potentia est.

You know Latin, right?


Oh, well, translated into English, it means “knowledge is power,” a catch phrase that was probably crammed into your cranium ad nauseum (you can Google that one means, bub) back in primary school. It basically means that knowing more will result in an increase in one’s quality of life.

So it’s only natural that learning institution Ryerson University would play host to TEDx, an independently run, self-organized wing of TED Talks, whose goal is to disperse its “ideas worth spreading” throughout our school’s community.

The TEDxRyersonU team took over the shiny new ice rink of the (don’t-call-it-Maple-Leaf-Gardens-even-though-it-is) Mattamy Athletic Centre this past Sunday, encouraging its audience to ACT. Attendees had to apply to be part of the day, but luckily my media powers let me bypass any sort of screening process to ensure I might actually get anything out of the day.

Luckily, I did.

This was my first time in the Mattamy Athletic Centre, and I was quite impressed to see just how well the TEDxRyersonU team utilized the space. After a couple escalator ascensions, we arrived outside the hockey rink area, where signature red TED letters and banners decorated the otherwise familiar grey of a hockey arena.

Arriving early, I immediately met with Sid Naidu, Mentoring Officer at Ryerson’s Tri-Mentoring program, and TEDxRU’s humble emcee. He told me he wanted to help “build momentum inside students who want to take action,” and hoped that I would enjoy the show. A  Ryerson grad himself, Naidu has remained very active in the student community, and acts as a mentor to many Ryerson students (myself included) interested in creating something on campus.

The rink was sectioned off with black curtains, separating a lounge-y snack area, complete with standing tables (and candles, how romantic!), coffee, and a live jazz band during intermissions. Passing through to the main section, full-sized broadcast cameras peppered the back gallery behind rows of seating, and two big projector screens hung behind the main stage.

As the talks got underway, first speaker, director of the Office of Vice Provost, students, Tony Conte hilariously pushed the importance of celebrating who you are. Demonstrating a toy fairy wand, and advocating the importance of occasionally twirling (that is, spinning around like a nut), Conte’s infectious message was to “use your courage muscle, as it strengthens when you use it.”

Former MuchMusic VJ and Ryerson J-schooler Namugenyi Kiwanuka revealed her story of perseverance through her childhood spent in Uganda.

Daryl D’Souza then spoke of his journey co-running Lou Dawgs, a student eat favourite located on Gerard Street, and how his experience utilizing social media while promoting his business compelled him to show how “the connectedness of the internet is fundamentally changing our planet.”

Associate Director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning Mitchell Kosny gave an impassioned recount of his life’s work, and the lessons he picked up on the way, the most impactful being “nothing disempowers somebody like saying ‘Yes, but..’, rather, you should say ‘Yes, and….’”

At lunch break, everyone dispersed to the lounge area to take a prepackaged boxed lunch, a wasteful choice for a conference revolving around progressive ideas (recycling, how novel!), but I was happy to see they at least remembered us herbivores.

Back outside the rink, a first-year architecture student, Nivin Nabeel, was standing with a DSLR, compelling me to have my picture taken with the TEDx banner.

“I’m happy to volunteer for TEDx,” she tells me. “It helps to inspire and make me grow as a person, I feel.”

After lunch, a talk by Ryerson Engineering student Jolene Funk gave a talk that rightly pointed out the disparity of gender roles in professions, and how we unknowingly expel them onto children.

Robert Heydari, sporting blue hair and an 8-bit tie, gave an impassioned talk on community media, and how important it is to keep independence and distance from the corporate influences of big networks within the context of city news coverage.

Next, Vincent Hui, a colourblind architecture professor at Ryerson gave an incredibly encouraging talk about how he proved his old school councilors wrong by still managing a career in architecture, despite his visual limitations, and demonstrated his smartphone app that, when pointed at buildings around Toronto, reveals architectural background information and data.

George Smitherman and Andreas Souvaliotis spoke about the myth of corporate social responsibility, and how they are trying to capitalize on the intersection between social good and corporate incentive with their Social Change rewards initiative.http://socialchangerewards.com/ “Their tagline sums up this day perfectly,” Smitherman said of TEDxRyersonU. “It’s a wonderful community builder.”

Ryerson history professor, Arne Kislenko, gave a fervent talk on the importance of learning the lessons of history, “no matter how far they seem.”

Towards the end of the conference, Sid Naidu was reintroduced as a surprise guest speaker, and touched on his past experiences with “ah-ha” moments, and argued to be receptive of them, as they often are the big signals of a positive venture. Before his talk, he mentioned that the audience, tweeting alongside each speaker, got #TEDxRU trending nationally on Twitter.

“This is the kind of engagement we need, discussion,” said Naidu, “we need to engage a world that is disengaged.”

Finally, Ryerson President Sheldon Levy and recent social work graduate Teriano Lesancha gave a recount of her graduation ceremony earlier this year in Kenya, where over 1,800 people from her village attended, including Masai warriors, TV crews, and a federal cabinet minister arriving by helicopter. Mr. Levy received a cow from Ms. Lesancha’s father, considered a very high honour in Kenya.

“I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing with my knowledge,” Ms. Lesancha said. “I’m inspiring people to take action, and want to help find ways to build an educating community for Masai women back home.”

“The whole point of TED here,” Mr. Levy said, “is to build a reputation for our university in a leadership position, and help build success within our students.”

With 2012 being its third consecutive year running, the TEDxRyersonU team seemed incredibly coordinated and demonstrated excellent punctuality in running the event. Though it got pretty chilly at times (to be fair it was in a hockey rink), the conference was a great success. I left feeling inspired to one day host my own talk at a TED conference, and it certainly gave me lots to think about with what I can do with my remaining time at Ryerson. Leaving the Mattamy Athletic Centre, I felt a little mentally stronger, than before. So in that vein, mission accomplished.