TEDxRutgers inspires students through motivational speakers

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Photo by Eunji Kim |

Walter Fortson, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, discusses his time spent in prison yesterday on Douglass campus.


TEDxRutgers brought diverse speakers and concepts together Sunday to ignite a global enlightenment in the University community.

TEDTalks are held annually in Long Beach, Calif. to liberate ideas and bring together scholars of all disciplines in keeping with its motto, “Ideas Worth Spreading.” TEDx is independently organized at the University to stimulate the same dialogue at a local level, said Taha Najmuddin, co-organizer and curator of the event.

“I believe ideas can change lives and attitudes, and ultimately change the world,” said Najmuddin, a University alumnus.

Najmuddin, an international student from Pakistan and recent Rutgers Business School graduate, said he was inspired by a discussion he once had with a professor.

“You need to share [good ideas] with people,” he said. “If not, how are you going to know if they’re going to change the world? And if you’re on the other side, you need to be encouraged.”

Wei Jie Tan, co-organizer of the event, said he wants people to be inspired from the talks and apply what they learned to everyday life.

Tan, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior, said the different speakers were invited based on their different fields of study.

Walter Fortson, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, spoke about his experience from spending 25 months in prison to becoming a scholar student.

“I had a lot of thoughts in prison, but something that was most salient was that I was privileged,” he said. “But I would have to attempt herculean efforts in order to counteract this new identity I had as a convicted felon.”

For Fortson, that opportunity came from Donald Roden, an associate professor in the Department of History. As the founder of Rutgers’ Mountainview Prison Project, he offered Fortson the chance to prepare for an education at the University.

“All I heard was, ‘Here’s your life back,’” Fortson said.

Amanda Lim, vice president of leadership development club Toastmasters International, played violin and spoke about her experience playing with orchestras.

She said people should be a part of the world and not reflect on themselves because life is also about the community, the University and the world.

“Sometimes we get so blinded by our own ambition that we forget why we’re doing [things] in the first place,” said Lim, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “Instead of thinking about where you want to get in life, think about helping other people.”

Sami Fanik, a rapper activist, made an appearance on stage to spread his mission through music.

“I’m not scared to have a voice and I want to hear yours,” he said. “Power to the people who make this world better.”

Kevin Peng, creator of “Rutgers Memes,” said people would not know the power of an idea unless they shared it.  

“A meme is really just an idea, or an element of culture, that one can share from one person to the next,” said Peng, a School of Engineering first-year student.

Hillary-Marie Michael, an entrepreneur who founded Jersey Tap Fest when she was 16, said determination is needed to achieve dreams.

“Don’t just be the change. You need to create the change,” she said. “We hold the future of our world, and we need to be prepared to lead accordingly.”

Citing herself as an example, Michael said age does not factor into a person’s success.

“Your age has nothing to do with your capabilities. Your greatest support system is your own determination.”

Tracey Shors, a psychology professor at the University, said the concept of meditation helps the brain retain neurons.

“Learning keeps your brain’s neurons alive, but you have to make an effort,” she said. “The more difficult the skill is to learn, the more cells that are rescued from death.”

Yael Niv, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, said she wonders how the brain makes decisions, finding that the impulse-based habitual system is actually more reliable than the prediction-based deliberative system.

“Your habitual system’s been with you your whole life,” she said. “It’s like an autopilot.”

Dena Seidel, director of the University’s Center for Digital Filmmaking, teaches filmmaking and creative writing. She explained what makes up a story and how that can translate in to film.

“Storytelling is universal. Everyone has wants and dreams, and attached to those are narrative.”


By Raymond Wang

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