TEDx at DePaul - Engaging the Community

08 July 2021
Students chatting on campus

This spring DePaul University hosted its 2021 TEDxDePaul event. TED conferences are known the world over as the place for people to come and share Ideas Worth Spreading. The conference is centered on a theme, and a series of speakers share their ideas in a short 18-minute talk. The first TED talk, in 1984, featured a demonstration of the compact disc and the e-book. Past TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Jane Goodall and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The conference has grown in size and scope; now there are 3,000 different independent TED events held around the world.

DePaul has hosted TEDxDePaul since 2016, when it started with the theme What Must Be Done. This year’s theme was The Unexpected (def: unforeseen, thought unlikely to happen). This theme was appropriate for 2021 since so much of what we have experienced in the last year was… unexpected.

DePaul hosted six speakers ranging from deans and faculty to students and community members, all of whom focused on something unexpected. This theme was broad enough to embrace different experiences and points of view. The topics of the talks ranged from the unexpected death of a family member to the unexpected way that love is observed in an arranged marriage. In the first case, Jamal McPherson, a DePaul graduate student studying Public Policy Analysis, described the way that his aunt’s death affected him and how coming to terms with it helped him dedicate himself to a life of service, first in the military and then helping at-risk youth and working in impoverished communities.

In the second case, Priyanka Podjale, a 2020 graduate from DePaul’s College of Communication, described her experience with love and relationships. She describes the idealized view of love that is observed in movies, television and romance novels: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl get married. Her parents, who immigrated from India to the U.S. after their arranged marriage, showed her a very different kind of story - their story, boy and girl meet, get married and THEN fall in love - was so different from what she saw in the media that it caused her to challenge what she thought she knew and to examine love more closely. Toward the end of the talk, she describes how she could observe the love between her parents.

David Wellman and Coya Paz were two other speakers who gave two completely different talks. Though they both continued to explore the theme of the “unexpected,” their talks took completely different forms. David Wellman, the director of DePaul’s Grace School of Applied Diplomacy, talked about all the unexpected ways that everyday people practice diplomacy. When most people think about practicing diplomacy, they think of formal ambassadors to other countries or to the UN. Today, diplomacy is being practiced by normal people every day who seek to make changes to the world. As an example, Wellman talked about Wengari Matthaei, a woman who saw her native Kenya losing trees. She started an organization to plant trees, and that organization grew to plant over 50 million trees in Africa and created jobs for women. Her work was so significant that she was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. She was an everyday person who sought to make a difference.

Coya Paz, chair of DePaul’s Theatre Studies program, took a different approach to the theme of the unexpected. Her talk centered on ghost stories…. “Everyone has a ghost story” says Paz, a story of when they saw, felt or heard a ghost. Through her research, Paz has learned that ghost stories often reflect a place’s unexpected or hidden history. For example, she asked a colleague if he had a ghost story. He described going into an abandoned building as a child and seeing furniture move and hearing strange sounds. She conducted some research on her own and realized that the building he described was a hospital over 100 years ago and had served as a burial ground for deceased patients. Though the story of the hospital and graveyard was not common knowledge, the story of the hospital serving a poor community lived on through the ghost story. If everyone has a ghost story, it begs the question “What is yours?”

This year’s DePaul TEDx was 100% virtual; the host and the guests were filmed separately and livestreamed on various platforms. In a time where we could not all gather in the Holtschneider Performance Center on DePaul’s Lincoln Park Campus, it was great to be able to gather virtually. This event celebrated different ways of thinking about the world, and perhaps, inspired someone to make a difference.

TedxDePaul is just one way that university community members are engaging with you and sharing experiences. Are you ready to be part of this community? Apply to DePaul today!