Coverage of TEDxUWO 2011

TEDxUWO was an independently run TED talk held at the Grand Theatre in London, Canada. Organized by students at the University of Western Ontario, speakers were invited from across Canada to share their experiences on the theme of “Own Your Passion”. Below are the speakers and a short overview on what they talked about as well as other occurrences throughout the day. Complete biographies on each speaker may be found here.



The day began with Blake Fleishacker. The host of the event gave a heartwarming account of his small beginnings in undergrad. He came on stage with a backpack which contained “everything with which to succeed academically” and a guitar case which housed his plush bear affectionately named Teddy (or TED for the event). He told the crowd about spontaneously joining another guitarist in song which they proceeded to play in every corner of the campus. Soon this song was stuck in everyone’s minds and was coined “contagious”. His message to the audience was “Passion is Contagious”. If someone is passionate about something, spreading that passion will incite passion in others.

Ian Keteku followed the host. He is a self-named Travelling Poet. His talk was intermingled with lightening-fast verses and his poetry was flawless. He easily transitioned from phrase to verse and even gave his own thoughts while standing on his head. One memorable quote was, “Do books read human fingers? And if so, what stories would they tell?”. His message for the day was to “Vocalize your passions”. He himself felt that poetry is a perfect example of this and that poetry also allows one to vocalize the passions of others.

Then came Wade David. His talk focused on The Sacred Headwaters. This is an unspoiled region in northwest corner of British Columbia, Canada. There are three rivers here which are born at once and there is only one other location in the world where that occurs, in Mount Kailash in India. He said, “These vast rivers, they are the arteries of life”, referring to the indigenous people of the area. He raised the audience’s awareness that corporations were willing to exploit this region using tax dollars meant to promote environmental promotion.

Ted Hewitt talked about his involvement in improving both the architectural and economic infrastructure in Brazil. His journey began in his early twenties when he hitchhiked to Brazil as a self-described hippie. The next time he went there it was in a government-owned plane alongside the Governor General of Canada. His message was to “Move your passion to a new place”. There are boundless opportunities, and all one has to do is look for and capitalize on them.

Andrew Lockie is a CEO of a non-profit organization. As an MBA graduate, this at first seems counter intuitive. However, this philanthropist claims that profit and non-profit organizations are quite similar except in one fundamental area, motivation. His talk centered on the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. In his words, “effectiveness is what we need and efficiency is how we get there”. Therefore it is important that a non-profit organisation remains effective even when increasing its efficiency.

Drew Dudley was  the former National Chair of Shinerama and every university student will remember the circular blue and orange stickers during orientation week in order to raise money for cystic fibrosis. Charismatic and energetic, Dudley spoke about the alleged “list” that people felt obliged to follow. A kind of “scavenger hunt” where one had to check off all items on the list in order to feel happy or fulfilled. He stressed that there really is no list except the one that you make for yourself. The only obligation that exists is to grab the life one desires. His most memorable quote was, “Work hard for an incredible transcript but make it the most unremarkable thing about you”.

From this point on there were a few talks presented on screen from TED punctuating the live talks. These were given by Janine Benyus on biomimicry, Bill Gates on the importance of balancing state budgets, Salman Khan on the Khan Academy ( and an alternate teaching method in schools, and Nathan Myhrvold on using lasers to kill mosquitos. These four talks can be viewed on

The next speaker was Lou Hood. She created We(e) Press (, an organization whose goal is to educate the world’s children. She began with a picture book which was illustrated by 24 artists from around the world. She called it “Around the World in the Blink of an Eye”. Its purpose is to teach children about timezones. In order to undertake such a task it was important that today’s forms of modern technology are  in place. It allowed Hood and her colleagues to “[Connect] to the Global Consciousness” and by doing so, create not only a unique book, but also a unique organization.

Adrian Owen, a neurologist, spoke to the audience about regenerative neurology. He said that the traditional description of the vegetative state is “wakeful and unaware”. However the question arises about how do we actually know they are unaware? He gave the story of Kate, a woman who came out of the vegetative state and was actually fully conscious and aware even while seemingly vegetative. Owen and his colleagues used FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) in order to detect activity in the brain when they instructed the patient to think of something. They equated this activity to either yes or no, so when the patient thought the answer to a question was yes they would think about a certain activity and by so doing, activate a different part of the brain than when their answer was no. Through these techniques, Owen has been able to get a much better understanding of the physical and emotional pressures on someone in the seemingly vegetative state.

Craig Cardiff is an innovative musician and a very prolific indie artist. His music can be described as folk and he has worked with camps for kids going through the prison system. He sang a few original songs including one written just for the the occasion. His message for the audience was “Be open and passionate”. After all, no one can know your passion if you don’t announce it.

Kyra Harris was the youngest speaker at TEDxUWO. However, her age was no indication of her talent at poetry. Her verses were accentuated with pictures drawn by children illustrating their favourite words, or just things they liked. Her theme for this talk was, “To dream big, you have to play small”. After all, if you ask a child what they want to be when they grow up they have a concrete answer, but if you ask someone older, they have no idea.

Chris Bentley gave his  talk on youth suicide in Aboriginal children. It is surprising that in a country so rich as Canada, there is one of the highest rates of suicide among Aboriginal youths. Much of the blame can be pinned on the Canadian government and its historic treatment of these children in residential schools. Bentley believes in the power of sport and has helped these communities begin after school programs so that children have an incentive to both go to school, and remain in school for the entire day. He believes that “change comes from within [and] cannot be imposed” and through this program the number of suicides have been reduced to nil. His take-home message was “Make tomorrow better than yesterday”.

The next speaker was Ray Zahab, a man who needs no introduction. He was a pack-a-day smoker before quitting and subsequently running across the Sahara Desert in 111 days. One of his initiatives is Impossible 2 Possible – I2P ( This program uses youths as ambassadors to travel to un-tapped regions of the world and to share their experience with classrooms across the world through modern video and satellite technology. His message for the audience was “[Give] young people the tools they need – they have no limits to what they can do.”

Dennis Shackel gave an emphatic talk which produced both gasps and laughs. He told the story of the death of his brother-in-law on a mountaineering expedition in New Zealand. It was heart-wrenching when he described his brother sliding down the mountain and avoided grabbing Shackel’s outstretched hand on purpose to prevent Shackel from being dragged down with him. Subsequently he had to spend the night in a t-shirt and shorts in -30 degree celcius. He told the audience three lessons he learned from this experience: Carpe Diem, tragedies are potential blessings, and leadership is a state of mind, it’s a disposition, not a position. His message today was, “Mastery is the art of correction, not protection”.

The next speaker was Bobby Umar who gave a talk about the power of connection. Connection begins with caring and caring arises from passion, awareness and relating. With caring comes communication. Communication involves talking, listening, physicality, honesty, questioning and risk-taking. His final equation showed that it was a combination of caring and communication which ultimately leads to connection. It is this connection that people need to strive for – true connection.

Clark Bryan was the penultimate speaker for the day. He is a gifted musician and a passionate pianist. He spoke about his passion for classical music, or as he called it, “music that stands the test of time”. He talked about artists and composers throughout history who used the piano as the basis for their creativity. Punctuating his talks, he would play excerpts from Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin until finally culminating his performance with a beautiful rendition of Reflets Dans L’eau by Debussy.

Finally the event closed with Ed Jernigan. A professor at the University of Waterloo, Jernigan spends one month every year for the last 27 years in a residence with high school kids. The Shad (Valley) Program as it is called is a chance for these kids to hone their creativity and create something for its own purpose. This program fosters innovation which these kids felt was lost once they entered university. He also began Waterloo Unlimited in 2004, another high school oriented program for students with exceptional potential. He continues to direct Waterloo Unlimited.

Though a long day, each and every speaker brought something new to the table. The energy level in the hall throughout the even was electrifying. However, the exclusivity in purchasing tickets was unnecessary because there were many empty seats on the lower level and the upper level was completely vacant. perhaps in future years the event will be made more public from the start so more people can enjoy these interesting talks.

Overall the event must be deemed a success. During breaks and the lunch, speakers were available for conversations, critiques and curiosity. A white sheet of material was hung on a wall in the basement for people to write their own ideas. Others gave their contact info beneath ideas they felt worth pursuing. TEDxUWO plans to connect those people. Photographers and food were abundant and TEDxUWO plans to make the footage and photos from the event public.

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