Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Logo of The Middlebury Campus
Tuesday, Dec 5, 2023

‘Truth & Dare’: TEDxMiddlebury returns to campus with challenges, inspiration for the community

Yuvraj Shah '26 aimed to educate the audience on the twice migration Kenyan-Indian people have experienced. (Photo by Simon Leiderman)
Yuvraj Shah '26 aimed to educate the audience on the twice migration Kenyan-Indian people have experienced. (Photo by Simon Leiderman)

TEDxMiddlebury showcased a series of thought-provoking talks centered around this year's theme, ‘Truth and Dare.’  After seven months of meticulous planning, TEDx took to the Dana Auditorium stage in full form featuring speakers other than Middlebury students for the first time since the pandemic on Saturday, Nov. 11 from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The event brought together four speakers who advocated for challenging conventional norms, embracing the power of storytelling and acknowledging the significance of remembrance. 

TEDx talks are independently organized, given and planned by volunteers from local communities. All events follow the traditional TED conference format in which a variety of speakers deliver a talk, but each one has a different theme that links all of the talks together.

The TEDxMiddlebury board composed of 10 students began planning the most recent event last spring and worked together to execute the event by helping with planning as well as recruiting speakers, according to Dana Anderson, Innovation Hub associate director of Creativity & Innovation. 

“Through weekly planning meetings at the Innovation Hub, every member of the team contributed to the event in a meaningful way: from applying for the TEDx license, to organizing the student speaker competition, to choosing the theme, to inviting speakers,” Anderson wrote in an email to The Campus. “The student board exceeded all expectations and was just a joy to work with!”

According to the Tedx webpage, this year’s theme of ‘Truth & Dare,”  “Examines the contentions of truth and the ‘dare’ to defy what society holds self-evident in the 21st century.”

Emcee Ignacio Gamero ’26 welcomed the audience to Dana Auditorium on Saturday morning by explaining the significance of this year’s theme.

“We as humans have the ultimate gift: we have the ability to think,” Gamero told the crowd. “When we’re presented with a struggle or faced with pressure we step back, we analyze, we reset and we rebuild. We accept the truth and we take on the dare.”

The first speaker was Akshata Nayak, founder of children’s book company ‘Little Patakha.’ 

After noticing a critical gap in how popular childrens’ literature often neglects to address bias — a concerning issue in light of how she highlighted that books significantly impact childhood development — Nayak confronted this issue by establishing her own company dedicated to crafting children's books that are not only entertaining but also informative, inclusive and multicultural. 

“I want this to be a model of what truly inclusive and fun products can look like,” Nayak said. “Where we address the situations and concerns with intention, care and subtlety to normalize the conversations and help kids, nudge them, to stay connected with their open and accepting nature.”

She finished her talk by urging audience members to reflect on the kinds of books they read for pleasure and how they could implement books into their lives that are more inclusive.

The next talk was given by Phil Chodrow, a computer science professor at Middlebury. Chodrow highlighted the importance of data science as a means of protest, activism and resistance. 

“Some of you here might already be powerful in data science,” he said. “I want you to ask yourself, how can you use those skills to contribute to a more just, equitable, peaceful and sustainable world?”

Chodrow also discussed how data science has been used to map phenomena such as police violence and homelessness in Vermont, which has helped facilitate more meaningful change by providing a statistical backbone for social and infrastructural change to be carried out. 

Then, an official TEDx video was displayed in which Jasmina Aganovic, CEO of the beauty biotech company, Arcaea, discussed challenging the beauty industry using biology. After a brief intermission, another official TEDx video from activist Loretta J. Ross played, where Ross advocated for the importance of calling people in — that is, holding them accountable in a way that invites them into a conversation — rather than calling people out.

Yuvraj Shah ’26 then resumed the live portion of the event with a talk centered around a twice migration story that Kenyan-Indian people have faced due to British imperialism. Shah is Kenyan-Indian and has moved to the United Kingdom, but he considered these parts of his identity to also be part of his family history. Unfortunately, Shah said, not many people know this migration story, so he gave this talk to educate people about this history.

“We will never truly be forgotten,” Shah said. “Our destiny may have already been written, but we can still take control of it. There is still time. History is always written by the victors, but I think it’s way more important to ask the losers to tell us what they thought.”

Following Shah’s talk, students in the audience from Kenya and Venezuela remarked on how touched they were by Shah’s story and how his words deeply resonated with them and their own family histories. 

Enjoy what you're reading? Get content from The Middlebury Campus delivered to your inbox

“Writing this TEDx was especially difficult because it was attempting to put 200 years of history into a 17-minute talk, for an audience that had little context about what I wanted to share,” Shah wrote in an email to The Campus. “But once I realized that the essence of my talk was to tell my own story I just wrote what I've always wanted to say, and in a way, I was forced to grapple with and examine how I choose to define my own identity. By writing and presenting this TEDx I understood I cannot truly define myself, and I don't think I ever want to.”

Finally, visitor Larry Hayes spoke about the importance of storytelling. Hayes discussed growing up with a stutter that affected his confidence and social-skills. He said that he was able to improve his verbal fluency by telling stories, and he believes that storytelling can be used to challenge the binary, in line with the theme of the morning.

“Remind yourself that the truth is we all have the ability to turn love to hate,” Hayes said. “We all have the ability to include the excluded. We all have the ability to say ‘I was wrong,’ and that’s where the dare comes in. We have to dare ourselves to use and act on that ability whenever we can.”

TEDxMiddlebury’s return to full form this fall allowed students, professors, alumni and local residents to participate in conversations in order to  challenge themselves, their peers and their community. 

“Seeing people from our school community give such thorough and well-spoken speeches was incredibly inspiring,” said El Fahey ’26, one attendee of the TEDxMiddlebury event. “I really took the message of challenging the binary with me after I left. It was definitely worth waking up early on a Saturday.”