By VICTORIA HILLS ’14
Co-Editor in Chief
In the spring of 2012, Yong Wei “Hamster” Chong ’14 approached her friend and fellow philosophy major, Cicia Lee ’14, with a bold idea: staging a TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) event at Wellesley College. Both students are longtime fans of TED, a nonprofit that freely distributes inspiring, informative and fascinating short talks by the world’s most compelling thinkers and doers. Chong and Lee became the co-founders of TEDxWellesleyCollege (TEDxWC), obtained licensing and put together a team last spring. TEDxWC will be held on Feb. 22.
Claire Cerda ’15 explained that the event is the result of years of planning and preparation.
“This has been planned for two, three plus years,” Cerda said. Along with other members of TEDxWC’s media team, Cerda works to regularly update the group’s website and Facebook and Twitter accounts. “This has been so much work, so much planning, but it’s going to be so awesome.”
TEDx events are organized independently of the main TED conferences, which are hosted annually in California. Designed to allow communities and organizations to further the TED motto of “ideas worth spreading” at a local level, TEDx talks have been organized in more than 1,200 cities throughout 133 countries.
Nine of TEDxWC’s 12 or 13 speakers have been confirmed. Speakers include John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, and Katherine Collins ’90, a Wellesley alumna and former investment portfolio manager and CEO of Honeybee Capital. Another presenter is Story Musgrave, a high school dropout who holds six graduate degrees in fields ranging from medicine to computers to literature, and is a former NASA astronaut and part-time trauma surgeon.
“Every time we say his name, we’re like, ‘Badass,’” a laughing Cerda said of Musgrave, who also served as a Marine.
“We have several pretty high-profile speakers,” Lee added. “Maybe not like household name high-profile, but like really super legit high profile speakers. We also wanted to highlight a few people who are doing really interesting things who aren’t high-profile.”
These less high-profile speakers include Irene and Margaret Li, who run the Mei Mei Group, a Boston-based food truck and restaurant enterprise. The Mei Mei Group unites former lawyers, neuroscientists, zoologists and other “food obsessives” to bring innovative and ethical cuisine to the city.
The array of speakers already confirmed for the event illustrates the ambition of TEDxWC. Lee proudly discussed the no-holds-barred approach her team has taken to organizing the best event possible.
“One of our ambitions is to make this just a really exceptional TEDx event,” Lee said. “A lot of first-time TEDx events are kind of like smaller scale, not as many speakers, not as many high-profile speakers—just kind of like local people, professors, students. But we really wanted to make it like a spectacular event.”
“We wanted to literally be Wendys about it,” joked Cerda.
The scheduled speakers are united by the TEDxWC theme of consilience, or the linking together of principles from different disciplines. The ways in which TEDxWC’s speakers have found success speak to the importance of a liberal arts education.
“These people have had very successful careers, but they’ve achieved success by bringing in things that they’ve learned from one discipline into another,” TEDxWC media team member Annie Wang ’14 said. “We wanted very much to represent what Wellesley is and what we believe in.”
Although TEDxWC is shaping up to be a sensational event, bringing TED to Wellesley College is not without its challenges. TEDx enforces a variety of rules, limiting the number of people allowed in a live session to 100 and requiring each session to dedicate 25 percent of its time to official TED videos. Organizers also aren’t allowed to offer speakers honorariums.
Lee and Chong are undeterred by these rules. Instead, they have invented several ways to circumvent the TEDx guidelines to incorporate as much of the Wellesley community into TEDxWC as possible. The 12 or 13 speakers will be divvied up into four sessions, each about one and half to two hours long, so that 400 people, and not just 100, will be able to attend the event. The TEDx talks will also be streamed live in the Alumnae Auditorium.
A grinning Lee stated that watching TEDxWC in Alumnae Auditorium will be a “really cool” experience. “Everybody watches TED talks on their computers, but now you can watch them on a huge screen with all of your friends.”
Lee, who wants TEDxWC to be available to all members of the Wellesley College community and even people from the town of Wellesley, will use a lottery system to ensure that everyone has an equal chance of attending. After perusing information on each session and its speakers, people will choose the session they’d most like to attend. Their names will be entered into that session’s lottery, and 100 names will be randomly drawn. Registration opens the first week of December.
In addition to live screenings in Alumnae, a reception will be held after each session. Lee hopes that these receptions, which anyone will be able to attend, will help facilitate dialogue—after all, TED’s central theme is “ideas worth spreading.” The reception will allow individuals the chance to get to know each other and the speakers.
“I think that’ll be one of the great things about TED, if we can make that happen—the dialogue that will happen on campus afterwards,” Cerda said.
“This is something that’s way bigger than any of us, way bigger than this team,” Cerda added. “There has been so much thought and work into this … this is something that we’re really giving to the community.”
Victoria is a senior studying biology and history. Follow her on Twitter @HillsVictoriaM.