This past Friday, TEDxToronto took over the Evergreen Brick Works. The 9th incarnation of Canada’s largest TEDx conference consisted of 1200 delegates, 14 speakers, and 4 performances – all jam packed into a single, inspiring day.
Canadian adventurer and author, Jamie Clarke, returned as the event’s master of ceremonies. Speaking of the conference’s theme this year, ‘Legacy’, he set the tone with a word of advice: “It matters not how you got here. You are in the right place”.
The day’s itinerary consisted of an impressive roster of talent, including many individuals from Toronto itself: Former Chief City Planner of Toronto, Jennifer Keesmaat spoke to how inclusive city building can protect democracy, Parkdale MPP, Rev. Dr Cheri DiNovo revealed the Queer-positive nature of the Holy Bible, and Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak skipped biology class to share her desire to inspire generations of younger girls. Toronto startup, Nanoleaf played a sizable role during the conference, with their colourful Nanoleaf Aurora panels syncing to musical performances by Tablix and kLoX. Nanoleaf CEO & co-founder, Gimmy Chu was also a speaker during the event, and mused over the benefits of delving past what one does, or doesn’t know, and into “the abyss” – a place that allows you to create something the world hasn’t seen before.
As the day progressed, an unofficial theme arose, vulnerability; tears were shed, truths were spoken, and regrets were aired out in the open. Michelle Latimer, filmmaker of Metis/Algonquin descent, visibly shook as she addressed the crowd in her mother tongue, a language she, nor her family, no longer speaks. Peter Sloly, Toronto’s former Deputy Chief of Police, formally thanked his former police crew, an opportunity he was not afforded before he exited the force. Satish Kanwar, VP Product of Shopify, recounted his feelings of remorse when the agency he co-founded was acquired. However, the most powerful display of vulnerability came from actor, Jeremie Saunders, in an incredibly moving speech that seems destined for TED talk stardom. 29-year-old Saunders has Cystic Fibrosis. The average CF patient lives to an age of 30. Not ‘despite’, but ‘because’ of this expiration date, Saunders has driven himself to live life to the fullest, stating that “Cystic Fibrosis is the best thing that has even happen to me”. His passion for life and acceptance of death is truly inspiring, and the fervent delivery of his exceptional message culminated in both speaker and audience sharing tears.
As Natasha Subban, social justice advocate and former teacher of wrongfully murdered Mississauga teen Deshawn Brandon Nicholson, shared with the delegates during her talk, “vulnerability is a strength”. Further, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, the Honourable Ahmed Hussen, encouraged us to “be vulnerable – through that we can create change”. Each individual who graced the TEDxToronto stage to perform or speak had a legacy that established them as experts in their specific fields. However, what truly made their speeches remarkable was a willingness to be vulnerable – to share these experiences, lessons, and fears with a room of 1200 strangers.