A small group of thirteen high school students from across the G.T.A. gathered this past Wednesday in an auspicious lecture room by busy College Street at the University of Toronto. They weren’t gathering to hear an important professor talk about academia, nor were they together to work on a teacher’s latest assignment—these were TEDxYouth@Toronto’s newly minted committee of Youth Ambassadors set out to spread the TED(x) to high schools across the city.

Bob McDonald, Canadian author and science journalist, speaks at TEDxYouth@Toronto 2010, held at the MaRS Discovery District. Credit: Eric Ye, 2010

TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) conferences were created by Mr. Chris Anderson as an annual conference in Monterey, California in 1984. From its early days, TED emphasized technology and designs, focusing on spreading innovative ideas and inspirational new research to passionate and interested audiences. Since then, TED talks have grown to address a wide variety of topics within scientific research and culture, often through storytelling. TED’s international stage has hosted the likes of Jane Goodall, Malcolm Gladwell, Al Gore, Gordon Brown, Richard Dawkins, Bill Gates, and even Salman Khan.

Event chair Sabeen Saeed (left) have worked together this year with the Ontario Science Center to host their event on November 17th. This year’s theme, (R)Evolution will bring innovative, passionate professionals speaking about little ways to make big changes.

For the past several years, TEDx (independently organized TED events) has celebrated TEDxYouthDay to commemorate the United Nations’ adoption of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This event is designed to empower, teach, and inspire young people across the world. In Toronto, TEDxYouthDay will inspire youth across the city with accomplished speakers and their innovative ideas. This year, TEDxYouth@Toronto will be hosted by the Ontario Science Center on Saturday, November 17th.  Between presentations and cups of coffee, Event Chair Sabeen Saeed shared some insights and stories about her experiences with TED.

Q: What does TEDxYouth@TO mean to you?
A: It’s really great to be able to bring the TEDx experience to youth. There are so many great ideas, platforms, messages that can be delivered. We’re all very passionate about TED and the great ideas that are presented and really want to share this experience with youth because we believe they can learn a lot from the presenters. For me, this is a way to bring this fantastic experience to youth for free across the city and really get them excited about learning, perhaps meet some new people, and discover their passions for making a difference in their community.

Q: What’s the story behind this year’s theme?
A: We went through a bunch of different ideas and found that the common thread between all of them was that we wanted to have something about change, which led us to the theme, (R)Evolution. Today’s youth are very engaged—they’re very political, and really want to make a difference.  Our team talked about how revolution is something in the news all the time now. We’ve seen how Twitter can act as a catalyst for all kinds of change, and we didn’t want to focus on dramatic change—we wanted to take a look at change that anyone could impact.  So that’s where we came up with (R)Evolution, looking at both gradual and drastic, dramatic changes. Oh, and it seems like the brackets around the “R” have really caught on too!

Q: Are there any opportunities for interested youth?
A: The youth ambassador program has wrapped up for the year, but attending the event itself is a fantastic opportunity. Right now, applications are open and will be open from September 15th until 20th—they’re open to any high school student in the G.T.A..  Again, it’s a free event so if students apply and are accepted, they’ll receive an invitation in late October so they can come and be a part of the event and hopefully remain involved in the years to come.

Q: Is there anything specific TEDxYouth@Toronto looks for in an applicant?
A: Students who are passionate and genuinely interested in attending really stand out to us. We ask things like “Why do you want to come to this event?” because we want to know that the students who attend the event are truly people who wish to be there. Also, students we feel who will spread the message—if they’re going to share the talks or take the messages from the talks and go away to do something with it, enact some kind of change in their community. If one student who attends makes one change in his or her life that affects someone else, that would really be great. It’s all about creating positive change, step by step. You don’t necessarily have to be the best student to come to this event—academic standings at school aren’t involved in the application process. All we want to know is that you want to make a difference and want to learn!

Q: What’s your favourite ted talk?
A: My favourite TED talk…I have a couple, but I really enjoy “How to Make a Difference”. It’s short, and sweet, and really accessible to anyone, including people who haven’t necessarily seen TED talks before. I also really like “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brené Brown. It’s a really great talk where she discusses that being vulnerable and being human is actually strength and an asset. She’s a great speaker and quite exciting to watch.

Q: Sounds great! Is there anything else you’d like to say?
A: Get out there and apply! This is a unique opportunity and we’re really looking forward to take part in this. We’re doing this event for youth and hopefully we’d like to one day hand this one off to youth. We’d love for them to run this event themselves, since we can’t do this forever and we’d really looking for a bunch of students who are passionate and want to get involved and have you guys host this themselves. So the more involved you get the closer we are to leaving the legacy! (Applications can be found online here.)