‘Who We Are,’ TEDxCUNY Conference Set To Return In Person

TEDxCUNY's conference will return this March after a four-year hiatus./TEDxCUNY

By Serin Sarsour


   For the first time in four years, TEDxCUNY will host an in-person conference on Friday, Mar. 10 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College. The collaboration between the university and TEDx program aims to provide the CUNY community with a platform to share different ideas and amplify diverse voices led by students.

   “One really unique thing about TEDxCUNY is that we represent nearly 500,000 students across 25 institutions, which makes us the largest TEDx university organization by representation in the entire world,” said Emily Madray, a sophomore at the Macaulay Honors College at John Jay. Madray is a TEDxCUNY co-organizer and has been a part of the team since the first semester of her freshman year.

   Madray was eager to join the TEDxCUNY team after watching TED talks became her favorite pastime while in high school. She wanted to be a part of something that spreads the ideas of marginalized communities. Afterall, “educating the masses and furthering unique perspectives” is in her DNA because her grandfather was a principal for a high school in his home country of Guyana, according to Madray.

   TEDxCUNY was originally formed in July 2014 and has hosted annual conferences with a variety of speakers since. Due to COVID-19, the conferences were forced to go virtual. The former full-day events were transformed into smaller “salon” events that lasted about an hour or an hour and a half, featuring two to three speakers. Fortunately, with restrictions letting up, the 2023 conference is set to return to its in-person form.

   “One of our big goals for this event is to reintroduce ourselves to the CUNY community and we really hope to have an impact on everyone that attends,” said Katiera Dickinson, a senior at John Jay and co-organizer of TEDxCUNY. “Having the ability to spread information and ideas in this event that we’ve created and have people from all 25 different campuses is a goal of mine.”    Dickinson joined the team in her freshman year as a result of her longtime love of watching TED talks. As a senior and in her last year with TEDxCUNY, she wants to go out with a bang.

   Although preparations for the annual event usually begin at the school year’s start, the planning process for this year’s conference began back in August 2021 in which COVID allotted the TEDxCUNY team extra time to prepare.

   “This 2023 conference is meant to celebrate diversity and inclusion and to celebrate that even as unique as CUNY is, how alike we all are at the same time,” Madray said.

   TEDxCUNY received several submissions via its website from people who were eager to be one of the speakers at the conference. After sifting through submissions and considering specific CUNY professors and affiliates, those selected were given the opportunity to perform a talk live to be further considered. Finally, the team chose eight special speakers who will participate in the conference next month. Without giving too much away, these speakers include a licensed mental health counselor, an award-winning dietitian and television correspondent, and the current legislative director of the Fire Department of New York. Alongside these eight speakers, two CUNY students were also chosen to speak at the conference after winning TEDxCUNY’s student speaker competition.

   Following the selection of these 10 diverse speakers came workshopping their talks to relate to the convention’s theme: “Who We Are.” 

   “We wish for the theme to be ‘Who We Are’ because we know that in our daily lives, it can be so easy to lose sight of our individual identities and the roles that we share in the larger context of the world. And throughout our life’s journey, we’re shaped by the people and the experiences we encounter,” said Madray, noting that who we are is constantly evolving.

   The speakers are currently memorizing their talks as the TEDxCUNY team focuses on their media and marketing outreach to get as many people as possible aware of the event. All CUNY students can reserve free tickets to the conference, and all attendees of the conference will receive a swag bag full of items from TEDxCUNY’s sponsors and partners.

   “This conference is for CUNY students by CUNY students,” Madray said. “We hope that the CUNY community can be reinvigorated with learning new ideas and are inspired by what they hear.”

   Madray and Dickinson noted, however, that the planning of the conference hasn’t always been smooth sailing. An obstacle the TEDxCUNY team initially faced was having to re-familiarize themselves with how to plan an event in person at such a large magnitude after four years, especially since many of their members had never planned a conference like this before. Though, after a lot of hard work and dedication, the team is looking forward to sharing the event with everyone.

   “If all goes well and there are no more COVIDs out there, we will be hosting annual spring conferences to continue our mission of ‘ideas worth spreading’ [TED’s slogan],” said Madray.