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'Curiosity and the pursuit of the unknown': TEDxUNC returns in-person

Billy Warden addresses the crowd at the TEDxUNC event on April 23, 2023 in the Curtis Media Center.

Most people have not visited a nudist colony, spent four weeks as a drag queen and become a manager for professional boxers. Billy Warden has.

During his speech at this year’s annual TEDxUNC conference, Warden, who is a journalist, talked about what he learned while writing a series of articles in which he immersed himself in these different communities. He urged the audience to look outside of themselves and explore unfamiliar experiences.

Warden was one of six speakers at this year’s conference, which was held on Sunday at Curtis Media Center. The conference, which was the first in-person TEDxUNC event since spring 2020, was organized around the theme of XYZ — which “explores and celebrates the human essence of curiosity and the pursuit of the unknown across generations.”

Warden said he chose the topic of his talk because he felt his immersive stories were all about being curious and within the spirit of the theme.

In addition to Warden, the professional speakers were Mark Lindquist and Dhiren Thakker. The student speakers were Kenan-Flagler Business School MBA student Claire Barnett, senior Carter Broome and sophomore T Lockamy. The talks encompassed a wide range of topics, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine, how convenience services provide accessibility to disabled people, what it means to be queer and even competitive jump rope.

Co-curator Shai Sayeed said that the TEDxUNC planning committee picked the theme because of how broad it was and the potential for speakers to be able to integrate their talks into it.

“In terms of what it means, we went towards a lot of celebrating the idea of the unknown, and what it means to talk about curiosity in different generations and how the idea of curiosity is what has fueled generations x, y and z, throughout the years to continue to advance as a society,” she said.

Sayeed said many of the speakers talked about things that are unknown to them, as well as what the audience probably did not know about them.

She said the overall TEDx organization’s motto is “spreading ideas worth sharing,” and that the committee’s goal is to bring that motto to life at UNC. TEDxUNC's goal is to give a platform to people with diverse backgrounds and create a space for the sharing of diverse stories on campus, she said.

“There's so much that we don't know, so many people that we typically don't get to hear from, so many topics in the regular day we don't tend to hear about and pursue," Sayeed said. "So TEDxUNC offers that space for them to not only come together with the speakers and address these things, but also kind of take part in a subtle ratio of what it means to be human, and to approach what we don't know head-on."

While TEDxUNC’s mission has always remained the same, this year's conference looked different than those in the past.

First-year Owen Fender, who served as head of logistics, said another reason the committee chose the theme XYZ was since it was the conference’s first year back in person. They wanted the speakers to have freedom with what they spoke about, he said.

Being the first year back, there were not very many people on the committee who had experience planning an in-person conference, which created a learning curve, Fender said.

“There was a lot of trial by fire,” he said. “We kind of consulted people from the past, we reached out to others, because a lot of that past experience isn’t in the organization anymore."

Sayeed echoed Fender's sentiment that returning to an in-person format created challenges in the planning process. But, while the event was held on a smaller scale than in years past, she said she was still happy to be able to have all speakers and participants in the same space together.

As a speaker, Warden also appreciated the mission of TEDxUNC and the opportunity to share his experiences and thoughts with the audience. He said in addition to providing new perspectives, one of his favorite parts about the conference is that it also gives people the chance to hear from speakers who may be going through similar things as them.

"Certainly there's going to be something in there that you're going to find comfort in or that will ring familiar to you that will make you a little less lonely," he said.


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