TedxWesleyanU hosted its annual conference in the Ring Family Performing Arts Hall on Saturday, March 4, 2023. The theme of this year’s event was Equinox, representing the balance between day and night, a description that seemed to encompass the speakers of this year’s event. Speakers came from a wide range of occupations and backgrounds, with both alumni and Middletown community members taking the stage to share their ideas.
“[The majority of speakers were] Wesleyan alum[s] [but] we also brought in people from the Middletown community…as a way of celebrating [their ideas],” TedxWesleyanU Licensee and President Shweta Kondapi ’24 said. “This year we had Rob Tschudin, who runs Tschudin Chocolates & Confections in Middletown. He talked about all the different directions his life has taken him.”
The event’s lineup began with poet and mathematician Marion Cohen Ph.D. ’70, who shared her experiences of finding balance through mathematics and poetry. Photographer and creative director Kendall Bessent spoke on his journey with photography and the importance of taking a chance, as he did in pursuit of his passion. Tschudin presented on the concept of benign opportunities and how they guided him throughout his life, culminating in his interest in making chocolate and running his local chocolate confectionery.
Other speakers included Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Garrow ’75, Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the Shapiro Center Merve Emre, and student speakers Ashley Cardenas ’23 and Nimra Karamat ’23, who spoke about their sustainable fashion startup Infinitely. The event concluded with former U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter ’62 joining by Zoom. Hunter spoke on his perspective on the world and the major events that will be important for the current generation, emphasizing the importance for everyone to go out and get involved and holding a short Q&A session.
Throughout the lineup of speakers, TedxWesleyan featured student performers. Carrying on the Equinox theme, student performer Tereza Pesmazoglou ’24 sang “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles and “The Times They Are a-Changin’” by Bob Dylan. Other student performances included a dance performed by Akhil Joondeph ’26 and an a cappella performance by Triple Major.
Collaboration went beyond the University community to support Middletown businesses, from Nora’s Cupcakes to Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore, who were featured throughout the event as sponsors.
“We always reach out to a ton of Middletown businesses,” Kondapi said. “We produce marketing materials for them, which we then advertise on both the TEDx YouTube channel, which has 30-plus million subscribers, and also on our own personal social media. It’s also just a really nice way to keep in touch with the community and let them know what’s going on at Wesleyan. And it’s a nice way for us to just mutually benefit each other.”
Planning for the event started in October of 2022, when the TedxWesleyanU team began reaching out to potential speakers and designing advertisement campaigns for the conference. TedxWesleyanU Marketing Chair Varia Voloshin ’24 began testing visuals and thematic choices for the 2023 conference over winter break.
“My day-to-day work involved things like coordinating team members and campus resources, drafting and assigning various campaign and advertising ideas, distributing tasks, teaching team members about design software, and ensuring social media and public-facing accounts were up-to-date,” Voloshin said.
Student organizers for the event who were recruited during the fall semester were quickly thrown into action as they broke into teams to manage talent, event experience, and marketing. With a tight timeline, each group sought to put together an event that could bring together the University community.
“I think that especially after the pandemic, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for us to get to know each other and to get to know the campus,” Kondapi said. “I think coming out of that, TEDx is one of the ways in which the campus can kind of bond together to celebrate each other, celebrate our alumni, and celebrate ideas worth sharing. So every year we make a real effort to bring together members of the Middletown community, members of Wesleyan, and also our alumni. Because I think that we all have unique reasons for being at Wesleyan, and TEDx helps celebrate all those unique reasons.”
Overall, the event proved to be a success as students showed up to support the event just days prior to the start of spring break.
“I’m just happy that we were able to produce a conference that I think a lot of people enjoyed because we actually had a pretty good turnout rate and a lot of people that stayed until the very end and participated in the Q&A with Ambassador Hunter,” Kondapi said. “That, to me, is a success. We were proud that the effort that we put in produced such a great event and we are excited to potentially do it again next year.”
Jo Harkless can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.