TEDx speakers reinvent ‘the American Dream’

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The lecture series TED (which stands for technology, entertainment, design) has arrived at Occidental with the first-ever TEDxOccidental College event. The independently-organized event by Occidental will bring students, alumni and community members to speak to the community on this year’s theme of “Reinventing the American Dream” this Saturday.

Oxypreneurship member and economics major Shilpa Bhongir (sophomore) began planning the event last spring. Bhongir and the Oxypreneurship team was interested in bringing a large event to campus and decided to apply for a TEDx license, the first step in getting approval for hosting a TEDx event.

“The idea for hosting a TEDx conference came from conversations among members of Oxypreneurship,” Bhongir said via email. “To us, TEDx conferences were about bringing people together to share new ideas and spark important conversations, and we felt like Occidental had so much to contribute to the conversation.”

Bhongir worked through the spring and over the summer with Oxypreneurship’s advisor, Diplomacy and World Affairs (DWA) professor Sanjeev Khagram, as well as with Vice President of Finance and Planning Amos Himmelstein and DWA adjunct professor Professor Sherry Simpson-Dean to complete the application, which was approved last fall.

“We wanted to capture the momentum and initiative that was already happening within the student body and move that forward,” Bhongir said via email.

Once Bhongir’s application was approved, she worked to get together a team of students to organize the event. Faculty Manager Khagram, economics major and Co-Manager Cholpon Ramizova (junior) and Co-Manager and undeclared Alexander Urry (sophomore) are key organizers of the lecture series. They met with administrators and staff to organize the details of the affair, from the venue to the food served during breaks.

Ramizova and undeclared Valdair Lopes (sophomore) served as curators to select speakers for the event. They looked specifically for speakers that would discuss a wide variety of topics – a TED requirement – concerning the American Dream theme of the conference.

“We wanted the best people from different fields, and we really tried to get a broad spectrum of speakers and students,” Ramizova said.

Ramizova and Lopes ended up with a list of fifteen people to speak during the day-long event. Along with Occidental alumni, staff and students, the list includes seven speakers not directly associated with the college: CEO of an architecture consulting firm David Gensler, entertainment industry marketing specialist Dennis Rice, Café Gratitude owner Terces Engelhart, activist Alberto Retana, activist Gamal Palmer, oncologist Richard Pestell and China sustainability expert Peggy Liu.

The list of speakers from Occidental includes: Diplomacy and World Affairs adjunct instructor Sherry Simpson-Dean, entrepreneur and Occidental trustee Dave Berkus (’62), Assistant Dean for Community Engagement Ella Turenne, history major Cordelia Kenney (senior), Art History and Visual Arts major Sarah Tamashiro (junior), undeclared Somer Greene (sophomore), politics major Brian Erickson (sophomore) and Critical Theory and Social Justice major Adrian Adams (first year).

Khagram explained that the speakers will engage in a variety of topics in their talks.

“We wanted diversity of all kinds and timely topics. Inclusion, equity, sustainability and community are all parts of the American dream and are going to be discussed by our speakers,” Khagram said.

Greene will be performing an original spoken word piece, entitled “RAD.” Most TED speakers present lectures or engage the audience in discussion making spoken word an unusual medium for presenting an idea.

“I have always wanted to attend a TED event, but when I found out that I could actually present at an event, I had to give it a shot. My piece is very different than the rest of the talks. It’s more like a story-telling narrative,” Greene said via email.

Khagram believes that with such a talented pool of speakers, this will be a day of celebration for Occidental.

“It’s been a tough time in the past few years at Occidental, and this has put sort of a dark cloud over the campus,” Khagram said. “We really wanted to create an event that was good, positive, that was all that is exciting and wonderful at Occidental. This event is a perfect alignment of what Occidental is at its best, throughout its history.”

Ramizova expressed appreciation for the open-minded student population as the right audience for TEDx.

“There is something really special about this campus. People really care about having conversations about a variety of things they care about. Occidental students ask the right questions, and they are really invested in finding the answers, whatever they might be. This is a perfect opportunity for Occidental to put itself on the map as a leading school in the world,” Romizova said.

The lectures will take place in Thorne Hall. Although it is an all-day event, built-in break sessions will provide time for group activities, art installations, snacks and coffee. A live stream of the talks will be streamed in the Tiger Cooler and possibly Choi Auditorium, pending approval, for students unable to get tickets. Registration will start at 8:30 a.m. but the speakers will commence at 10 a.m.