TEDxYale ‘solves for y’

Activist Ronan Farrow LAW ’09 (left) discussed his experience working with Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 at TEDxYale.
Activist Ronan Farrow LAW ’09 (left) discussed his experience working with Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 at TEDxYale. Photo by Joyce Xi.

Twenty-two speakers from across the world descended on campus for TEDxYale’s second annual conference Saturday.

Audience members from the Yale and New Haven communities packed the Shubert Theater for the seven-hour event, called “Solve for y.” The day was divided into four sessions, titled “Hypothesize,” “Experiment,” “Theorize” and “Predict,” and offered ticket-holders the opportunity to hear from speakers including Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Yale professors, students and alumni. TEDxYale Curator Paul Fletcher-Hill ’15 said the event allowed speakers and audience members to engage with ideas outside of their usual schedules.

“We wanted to hear the speakers’ special something, what makes them tick, their ‘y,’” Fletcher-Hill said to audience members at the conference’s beginning. “You as the audience have the opportunity to listen and consider what your ‘y’ is.”

D.J. Stanfill ’15, one of three student speakers selected from an online voting competition, opened the conference. Sitting behind a piano, Stanfill used the opportunity to discuss music and its emotional qualities. History professor and Council of Masters Chair Jonathan Holloway, who talked about his experience visiting slave camps in Africa, immediately followed.

Holloway admitted he was a “nervous wreck” before the talk, but said he enjoyed the experience.

“TEDx has been a fascinating experiment and experience for me,” he said. “It’s incredibly well-run, and it’s also neat to be able to share your ideas with a few hundred people, and maybe many more. That’s pretty thrilling.”

Other notable speakers included DeStefano, who discussed immigration in New Haven and the plight of his Italian grandparents in the U.S. Human rights activist Ronan Farrow LAW ’09 and policy entrepreneur Tomicah Tillemann-Dick ’01 talked about working with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, while mathematics professor Michael Frame concluded the day with a speech on fractals and the importance of “finding what you love.”

Eddy Wang ’16, who delivered a presentation on his difficulties overcoming a speech impediment, said it was “great” to be a part of TEDxYale.

“It’s so big, there are so many cool people, and it’s been a lot of fun,” he said.

Yale Dancers, Shades of Yale, the Duke’s Men and members of Teeth Poets performed for the audience between talks. A professional film crew captured the day’s events and streamed them live via the TEDxYale website.

Seven audience members interviewed said they appreciated the opportunity to see the speakers in person, as opposed to watching TED talks online.

“I watch a lot of TED talks,” Catherine Jameson ’16 said. “It’s really cool to be here where there is all the excitement and energy in the room.”

TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events based off of the nonprofit TED, which stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. TEDx conferences aim to present “ideas worth sharing” to smaller communities, and in the spirit of idea-sharing, audience members were given colored tickets on which they could write their interests. During the breaks, Curator Grier Barnes ’14 encouraged audience members to meet with ticket-holders of the same color and engage in conversation.

Despite the stress involved with organizing such a large-scale event, Barnes and Fletcher-Hill said they hoped people had taken time “to set aside the work and stress of college” to listen to the speakers’ stories.

“It’s been crazy, and I’m absolutely speechless,” Barnes said. “Everyone’s worked so hard, and it’s really come together.”

The first TEDxYale event took place last February and drew over 300 members of the Yale community to the Sheffield Sterling Strathcona auditorium.

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