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November 2013

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Under the overarching theme of ‘sparking change’, TEDxYouth@Sydney this weekend saw the University of Sydney and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) join forces to showcase young people with fiery passion: youth who light up their communities with ideas that empower and inspire.

As ideas ricocheted around the world to celebrate the global TEDxYouthDay, students from across Sydney broke with the Sunday ritual of sleeping, socialising and studying to brave the looming storm and explore what sparks are ablaze among Australian youth. From comedians, to acapella, to commentary, TEDxYouth@Sydney was bursting with big ideas, big personalities and big ambitions.

There were many original and intriguing entries in the University’s idea share activity, which asked attendees to finish the sentence “I will spark change by…’. Creative ideas included: 'being forever curious', 'loving one's body', 'free ice-cream' and 'eradicating misogyny'.

Vice-Chancellor Dr Michael Spence spoke to an audience of leading educators gathered in a separate wing of the gallery. On a panel discussion with Blair French, Assistant Director of Curatorial and Digital at the MCA, and Chad O’Neill, TEDxYouth@Sydney Visitor Experience Coordinator and University of Sydney graduate, Dr Spence discussed the transformative and transformed role of education in the information age, highlighting that the central thread of university education is critical thinking.

Meanwhile, with a wall of rain falling behind them, five talented Sydney College of the Arts students perched on paint-splattered ladders to create a live mural, translating the speakers’ ideas to art.

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Above: Sydney College of the Arts students with their live mural.

The youth speakers collectively embodied a new breed of young Australians: young people who want to resist the narrative of Generation Y as restless and saturated with social media and instead show the gravity of issues that define the world we're inheriting.

University of Sydney student Katherine Hudson, who was named one of Time Out magazine’s ‘30 under 30’ influential people, was the opening speaker. Katherine spoke about the propensity for young people to be ‘Slacktivists’, arguing that there is no substitute for voicing articulate opinions in powerful ways.

“Why are we drawn in by politics that distract us from our opinions, from our power?” she asked. “We can't afford to be disengaged... Let's stop ignoring the need to act.”

High school student and youth parliamentarian, Theodora Von Arnim is no stranger to action, opinion and debate. Theodora asserted the importance of argument and conflict that “inspires people to do what they think is impossible”.

This notion of pioneering against impossibility resonates deeply with Melanie Tran, the first ever Duke of Edinburgh’s medallist to have Spinal Muscular Atrophy. With a wisdom that defied her 17 years, Melanie spoke at TEDxYouth@Sydney of how the confidence she gained through Duke of Edinburgh brought her to “a wider and brighter world” and fundamentally altered her outlook on life.

“It’s important to have hope and confidence in life, because these two things can take you anywhere,” Melanie said.

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Above: TEDXYouth@Sydney speakers.

A number of speakers shared formative experiences from their youth that kindled passions and questioned their assumptions. Natalie Wadwell and Lucy Meyle discussed the role of art and artists in the community, Aadi Ganesan compelled youth to use communication to fortify against mental illness, Vik Nithy spoke on meditation as a means for overcoming mental health challenges, Genevieve Fricker scrutinised the influence of the media on individuals, and Kimberley Abbott argued that social business can unleash the potential of both others and of ourselves.

Then there was Brendan Maclean’s unparalleled eccentricity, Tom Ballard from Triple J's hysterical exploration of the similarities between seemingly diametrically opposed “heroes” and “wankers”, and University of Sydney student Hannah Ryan’s thought-provoking talk questioning whether self-censorship on social media comes at the expense of courageous ideas.

Inordinately clever and bold in their ideas, the TEDxYouth@Sydney speakers had ideas worth spreading that sparked conversations worth having. Most importantly, the talks prompted questions worth asking for the young people in attendance.

As TEDxYouth@Sydney came to a close, there was palpable excitement among the attendees. With thoughts lingering and ideas stirring, 220 young people left emboldened to become agents of change. I recently blogged about the inimitability of TEDx talks. TEDxYouth@Sydney 2013 exceeded expectations and was the genesis of many extraordinary ideas. If these young people are the future leaders of Generation Y, I can assure you we’re in good hands. In the words of TEDxYouthSydney 2013 speaker Vik Nithy, “what would you do if you could not fail?”


Above: TEDXYouth@Sydney speakers had ideas worth spreading that sparked conversations worth having.


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It is said that Albert Einstein* provided us with the words, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results’. But all too often us university students find ourselves exclaiming, ‘I will never ever ever leave study this late again!’ as we convert our rooms into bombsites in preparation for exams. Again and again. When push comes to shove, it can be hard to manage work, time with friends, family commitments and getting around to opening that $200 textbook. But we manage. For all those fellow crammers who’ve started considering dates as only an ‘exam day’ or a ‘non exam day’, I’ve compiled some reminders for exams so you can free up valuable memory space to digest that week 7 lecture.


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Every speech starts in a way not dissimilar to another. A presenter, an audience, a thundering silence and then an ensuing collection of skilfully assembled syllables and strategic pauses. What then makes a talk inimitable? What determines the longevity of its message? What makes a TEDx talk?

Ahead of next week's TEDxYouth@Sydney, fourteen exceptional young people who were selected from hundreds of applicants to speak at the prestigious event, met to determine just that.

The answer? Equal measures of passion, purpose and preparation.

Katherine Hudson is a student of the University of Sydney and co-founder of the international phenomena Wear it Purple Day, which aims to combat mental illness among LGBTIQ youth. Invited to speak at TEDxYouth@Sydney, she is passionate about mobilising youth to proudly wear the label of "activists" rather than be idle spectators of politics.

"We need to become digital hecklers of the 21st century. We will be inheriting the consequences of global trends that politicians largely ignore today: issues such as climate change, mental health and inequalities in marriage and education," she says.

"In the same way that Sydney Uni is a hub for community involvement and brings together diverse people who share common passions, all youth in the community should be just as empowered and committed to contributing to change."

The premise of TEDxYouth@Sydney is providing a forum for leading young minds to engage in electrifying debate. It breathes life to ideas that are daring, dynamic and disruptive to ultimately engage youth and key influencers in action. Each talk has a defining purpose.

Hannah Ryan is a sixth year Arts/ Law student at the University of Sydney and an editor of Honi Soit. After being responsible for publishing a controversial cover on the student magazine, the purpose of her talk is to challenge youth to not be preoccupied with the implications of speaking their mind.

Above: TEDXYouth@Sydney speaker Hannah Ryan.

"We are the first generation facing the predicament that our actions and opinions are recorded on social media. Students have traditionally been a very important source of ideas and it's my aim to make young people question their cautiousness around expressing bold ideas."

Katherine and Hannah join a league of speakers that includes comedians, journalists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and students who have defied notions of what youth can achieve. Aged 16 - 25 years old, they each have unique ideas, passions and drive and have diverse backgrounds, nationalities and experiences.

With one week left until TEDxYouth@Sydney, the common denominator underlying the fourteen speakers is preparation. As it is said, there are no good or bad speeches, only prepared and unprepared speakers.TEDx talks are infamously captivating and TEDxYouth@Sydney will be no exception.

Every speech may start the same, but certainly only the most powerful ideas, together with passion, purpose and preparation result in the sorts of blinding flashes of inspiration that question assumptions and compel change. TEDxYouth@Sydney offers an agenda of remarkable young people promising just that.

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Above: TEDXYouth@Sydney speaker Katherine Hudson.

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