Sharing stories of inspiration

Third annual TEDxQueensU event attracts crowd of over 250 people

From left to right: Jeff Cho
Image by: Tiffany Lam
From left to right: Jeff Cho

Sunday marked the third annual TEDx conference at Queen’s.

A red carpet highlighted the stage in Convocation Hall where 17 speakers got personal on a range of topics from surveillance, to music, to engineering physics.

“Demand is high for a seat at this conference,” TEDxQueensU Director Asad Chishti said of the crowd of more than 250 people.

Since the conference arrived at Queen’s in 2009, it’s more than doubled in size and volunteers.

“We really want to encourage conversation,” he said. “The whole idea of this event is to inspire and motivate people.” Chishti added that the event committee picks the speakers based on a three-wave process.

They invite anyone the committee thinks would be a good fit, and then open it up to community-nominated guests and host auditions to finish the speakers’ list. The committee tries to bring unheard accomplishments at Queen’s to light.

“There are so many incredible things happening here at Queen’s in terms of research and talent, but it isn’t always given the microphone,” Chishti said.

“We look for voices that haven’t been heard, or people that the students like.”

The speakers can pick any topic of their choice to address the crowd about, but there are some restrictions.

“We restrict our speakers from advertising, so they can’t pay to speak — which avoids companies

from going up there,” he said.

The Journal sat down with three of the 17 speakers to get the inside look at what makes their outlook on life unique.

Jeff Cho, dean of the Awesome Foundation, Kingston branch

When life isn’t working out the way you want it, you craft an alternative destiny.

That’s what Jeff Cho, a Queen’s drop-out did.

“[Queen’s] wasn’t for me,” Cho said.

In his first year at Queen’s, Cho said he overcame numerous challenges.

“I had mental illnesses that I didn’t even know I had at the time,” he said.

Student debt and disagreements with his parents soon followed.

“They basically disowned me over religious reasons,” he mentioned in his talk.

It was then that Cho decided to switch gears and leave his life at Queen’s for one in the military.

He’s now the dean at The Awesome Foundation: Kingston, part of a worldwide movement devoted to forwarding “awesomeness” in the universe by offering monthly $1,000 grants to interesting community projects.

Due to his experiences, he realized the impact people have on their own lives through their decisions.

He believes that people will shy away from their potential because of fear.

“What people need to realize is that things can change,” he said. “If you can predict your life five years from now, you are sitting too comfortably.”

Trevor Waurechen, cartoonist

When Trevor isn’t working on his cartoon series, he’s travelling across Canada to find inspiration for his art.

Waurechen is a cartoonist for his website “It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time”.

Originally from Waterloo, he grew up in Kingston within an artistic family that he said set him up for the career he has now.

“I always have this thing buzzing in the back of my mind whenever I do something that asks me ‘can I use this for my comics?’” Waurechen said.

His art has recently taken him couch surfing across Canada to provide inspiration for his newest comic, “49 Parallels,” where he visits people in different cities to find inspiration.

“Everyone I met has been pretty amazing,” he said. “I have stayed with people from as young as 17 to as old as 70.”

One of his favourite moments while on the road was when he stayed with a Sikh host. Although Trevor wasn’t familiar with Sikhism, but he traveled to the temple with his host and had the experience.

“It was totally enlightening to me, I knew absolutely nothing about this belief system,” he said. “The whole philosophy behind it is to treat others well.”

During his talk, he spoke about his travelling experiences and how this trip put him back on track, to help him find what his true priorities are.

“I want people to take away from my talk that you set your own rules,” Waurechen continued.

“Most of my life I had people set rules for me.”

Derek Dunfield, post-doctoral associate at MIT

Speaking at TEDx Queen’s was a return to his roots for Derek, now a post-doctoral associate in behaviour economics at MIT.

Dunfield graduated Queen’s in 2003 with a degree in physics. He then went on to complete his PhD in neuroscience at the University of British Columbia.

He combined his interests at MIT where he studies behavioral economics, using CAT scans to decipher why people make bad decisions. “I just applied to MIT,” he said. “I want people to know that it is not that hard.”

He encourages students to apply to schools that seem out of reach and to learn better ways to make themselves happy. “Experience your life,” he said. “I have forgotten half of the equations I learned here in my undergrad, but I won’t forget what I was involved in, like Queen’s Players or becoming a don.”


talks, TED

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