On Saturday 7th of March, I had the pleasure to attend the TEDx Independent conference organised in our University. Set in St. Chad’s beautiful hall, with natural light shining through all day, the day was one to remember.
‘Ideas worth spreading’ is the slogan for TED, and their independently organised events TEDx, and the co-Presidents, Abigail Blanche ad Blanche de Biolley (I too had to do a double-take with the name-surname matching), as well as tech-savvy Bertie Ellison-Wright, didn’t take this catchphrase lightly. This year’s Durham University event was called ‘Make you Mark’, and speakers from various backgrounds, communities and areas of expertise proved that there is not one set field where you can succeed and help society. We had the privilege to hear powerful women with even more impactful voices, bad-ass CEOs, honourable Generals and even Durham students whose stories make me feel unaccomplished and unworthy of praise.
The setting was beautiful, the speakers outstanding, yet neither of these attributes were what deemed the day so memorable. It was the approachability, closeness and warmth of the event that made it stand out from formal Durham Union speeches and panels across the university. The speaker’s reps made exceptional choices of individuals who had achieved fame, recognition and power through perseverance and hard work, but also through kindness and cooperation, and that is a feeling you could sense when they spoke to us students, unfiltered and as equals.
The day was complimented by exceptional performances from Durham Dynamics, Evie’s Band, Poetry society and Egor the Magician. All the artists had been skilfully picked, and they themselves chose suitable music pieces that contributed to the good ambiance and happiness in the room. From astonishing vocals to provoking poetry and mind-bending magic, there was no time for the audience to become bored.
Sarah Mardini opened the conference. As someone who has met Sarah before, heard her speak and cried with her story, I knew she’d be an impactful start. Sarah asked us to close our eyes, the sound of the sea in the background, and imagine ourselves swimming for our lives in a plastic raft in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight. I knew she’d start with a hit. If you want to know more about Sarah’s story, I’ve previously written an article about it: here. Matt Unerman, a Durham Student and creator of the University-wide movement Embrace the Waste followed, proving that sustainability is attainable by students and that there is more to life than summatives and nights out. An exceptionally well researched and thought-through presentation, he left even me, a self-catered student, wondering if I was doing the most to reduce my waste.
I cannot deny that when I first read the programme, and stumbled upon Malin Andersson’s name, a former Love Island contestant, among CEOs and Army Generals, it surprised me. Now, I must humbly admit I’ve never heard anyone speak in a more relatable, down-to-earth manner. Malin was the girl-next-door students in the room NEEDED to hear from. She addressed eating disorders and body insecurities that may seem insignificant compared to other issues, but are a harsh reality many students face. We are often made to feel ashamed of concerning ourselves with our weight and appearance when so much is happening in the world, but Malin reminded us that we cannot strive to change others if we are first not happy with ourselves. Her talk was raw, humble, and personal, even touching on losing a child, the abuse she received after Love Island, and how she has come full circle. Thank you, Malin, I know your talk reassured many people of their worth.
Following a bland cheese sandwich and packed lunch (I’ve never been a fan), we were up for the big-fish talks. Sarah De Carvalho, founder of It’s a Penalty, a charity that focusses on the prevention of child trafficking and gets its sponsorship from major sports events, such as the Olympics or the World Cup spoke about growing as an NGO, how to be heard, and, most importantly, how to speak up for those who cannot do it themselves. Sarah saw her mission as clear after meeting Rosie, a trafficked girl, during one of her trips, and decided she had to do something to remedy the situation. Intelligent, resourceful, and bossy (in the best way), Sarah took the job into her own hands, and successfully so. It’s a Penalty campaigns have resounded across the world, undoubtedly making their mark.
Trafficking was a vital topic for this edition of TEDx, with Gladys Kyotungire, a UN’s World Food Programme advocate that was very close to becoming a trafficking victim at the age of 4, speaking about how that changed her outlook on life. Child sacrifice in Uganda is still widespread, yet often ignored practice. After becoming Miss Uganda UK, Gladys used her new-found power to address the issue, visiting and talking in schools across Uganda about trafficking signs, consequences, and prevention. She has done extensive work in the humanitarian field and is further proof that beauty is not an obstacle, but one of the many aspects of feminism and the fight for equality.
The second student speaker was Ediri Omonesh, who after abysmal hardship proved that background doesn’t have to be an obstacle for your education and career. He addressed how the smallest decisions can be life-changing, in his case, he went to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Christian Fellowship Leader, Laidlaw Scholar, and Google Intern, his perseverance was inspiring, and reflected that money can’t buy everything; effort, dedication, and a good heart can.
Lastly, we were honoured by General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, ex-general of the Army, where he served 36 years, ex-commander of the UK Special Forces, commander of the 1st UK Armoured Division and Deputy-Commander of NATO in Afghanistan to finish as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the UK’s senior military officer in NATO following the annexation of Crimea. His titles are a mouthful, but his speech was not. Concise, useful, and empowering are the three words that describe it best. Failure and mistakes are necessary for growth and success, and it is important to not let past regrets cloud your future prospects and decisions. Opportunities come with hard work, good leadership, and, above all, humility, the ability to accept our errors and learn from others. We left the conference with this message of self-actualisation. Only we have the power to make ourselves better.
Refreshing, motivational and a much-needed summative break, I am beyond glad I attended the TEDx conference. What could’ve been a boring 8-hour-long assembly turned out to be a light-hearted, motivational reminder that power lies within our own hands, and with the right ambition we can use it to make our mark, no matter how small we start.