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TEDxBowdoinCollege sparks conversation on what it means to be a part of the broader Common Good

April 12, 2024

Shihab Moral
IDEAS WORTH SPREADING: Students, faculty, staff and alumni took the Kresge Auditorium stage last Saturday to speak about topics inspired by their passions and personal experience and how they intersect with the Common Good. The talks will be available online following publication by TEDx.

Last March, Victor Ferreira Souza ’26 approached Anyi Sun ’26 with a proposal to restart Bowdoin’s annual TEDx program. The process that followed was not easy—from obtaining a TEDx license to chartering the club, Souza and his team worked over every break since the idea was conceived to bring their vision to fruition. On April 6, thanks to these efforts, TEDx returned to campus before a packed audience in Kresge Auditorium.

“I think Bowdoin students have something to say,” Souza said. “This is a great way to put three of the biggest areas of Bowdoin together—the alumni, the teachers and faculty and students,” Souza said.

From there, the team hit the ground running over the summer to prepare for the event in April. To highlight topics that could resonate with the Bowdoin community, the organizing team decided to make this year’s theme “The Common Good,” a core value of the College.

“I think there’s nothing that unites people more than understanding how we can make the world a better place,” Souza said.

The TEDx team selected three student speakers from a pool of approximately 40 pitches, and reached out to faculty, staff and alumni to pick four additional speakers. Following selection, the speakers turned their rough ideas into fully developed talks which they memorized.

“It was really interesting to be a part of that process. To see, based on the feedback that people had already given them from the first interview round, what they were going to do to improve their talk and actually make it TEDx ready,” Anyi Sun ’26 said. “Finally being able to see the actual talk that night was so rewarding.”

Student speaker Noah Zuijderwijk ’25 gave a talk on the cyber identity crisis after being drawn to the opportunity from his personal connection to TED talks.

“I actually started learning English through some of the TED videos,” Zuijderwijk said. “And from that I kind of kept watching, and I’ve always wanted to do a TED talk. But when that email was sent out, some ideas that I’d been playing with in my mind were kind of about how we occupy a space on social media.”

Zuijderwijk described how he began to think about the topic in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic and when conversations around the Black Lives Matter movement flooded social media after the murder of Geroge Floyd. Zuijderwijk then questioned what social media identities reflect about the fleeting nature of real-life communities. This idea resurfaced in the forefront of his mind on October 7 when a similar social media movement emerged with the genocide in Gaza.

Zuijderwijk acknowledged that one of the hardest parts about writing his talk was that he could not answer all of the questions that he posed to the audience. But he realized that drawing from his own journey with social media could inspire others to think about political identity affirmation in their own lifes.

“I’m not a psychologist. I’m not a sociologist. I’m not a digital [computational] studies major. I’m a biology major. But I’m a true digital native. I’m a Gen Z, someone who’s just grappling with these questions, so I thought it would be interesting to talk about it,” Zuijderwijk said.

Associate Director for Public Service Wendy Van Damme was invited to give a talk about what it means to serve the Common Good as a student today in comparison to when she was in College, and how the concept of the Common Good takes a unique form in each individual’s life. Similar to Zuijderwijk, Van Damme spoke from personal experience about her role in the McKeen Center with the goal of helping others learn from her experiences as they frame their relationship with the Common Good.

“I’ve listened to TED talks, certainly, but I hadn’t considered that I would have a topic of enough expertise to offer a TED Talk. Then I heard that the topic was the Common Good, and I thought, ‘Well, I do care about that a lot. It does match the role I have here. And as I reflect about all of my professional decisions, it really does feel like a good topic for me to talk about,’” Van Damme said.

Similar to Van Damme, Professor of Government Michael Franz was intrigued and excited by the opportunity to give a TEDx talk, but also challenged by the 18-minute cap on TED talks.

“It was just a great chance to take a simple set of ideas and just figure out how to talk about it in a very short period of time—which is always hard for a professor, who’s used to 90 minutes of being able to just talk. But to kind of distill that down to a very simple direct message seemed like a fun opportunity,” Franz said.

In his talk, Franz raised questions about how an open and accessible democracy functions when a large portion of the population does not have the information to make informed decisions on their vote. As Franz grappled with his topic, he realized that there was not a simple solution to the problem he discussed, similar to the other speakers’ talks.

“The simple answer is that we can’t really get away from the fact that we need people to be knowledgeable, and we need to provide opportunities for people to become knowledgeable about politics. But then we just have to live with the fact that some people may not know enough to make the best decision possible. It’s still a democratic right,” Franz said.

Looking to the future, Souza hopes to expand engagement across both the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities.

“I hope next year that we can bring more about the Bowdoin and Brunswick community. I feel this project could expand, and I really hope that we go beyond just Bowdoin and into the broader Brunswick community because I think they would love it as well,” Souza said.

For those who missed the event, each of the speaker’s talks will be published on the TEDx website in the upcoming months, and recruitment for next year’s organizers will be taking place before the end of the semester.


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