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March 2, 2015

Irene Li: Showcasing ‘The Will’

March 4, 2015

Irene Li is a senior majoring in genomics and molecular genetics.

When I started as a freshman here at Michigan State, I made a rudimentary bucket list: Medical school, learn to ballroom dance, etc. One of the more far-fetched dreams I had was to help organize TEDxMSU.

I'd seen TED talks – conferences which showcase speakers and presenters not on the basis of their accolades, but rather on the merit of their ideas – all around the world. But I thought it'd be interesting to help contribute to one in my local community. It was a bit of an afterthought that I'd bring up to friends once in a while, a "that'd be cool" kind of statement.

This is how TEDxMSU started: It was a "what if,” a casual conversation among friends sipping on bubble tea on Grand River Avenue, slinging around ideas and possibilities. We'd invite Bill Nye! We'd ask President Simon to speak! The list grew off of each others' positivity and optimism.

I realized that bringing a group of motivated, excited people together into the same room is a catalyst for action in and of itself. We walked away from Bubble Island that night united on an exciting prospect: Take one of the world's most recognizable conferences and create our own incarnation.

I’m currently typing this article in the dressing room of the Wharton Center for Performing Arts. The curtains are being rigged, microphones and sound checks confirmed, lights blinking on and washing over the stage. Last night, the speakers and organizers convened at Pizza House for deep dish and deep conversations.

I was most inspired by the fact that this community was created so interactively and organically. There's quite a history behind our organization - the first TEDxMSU took place in 2012 and was spearheaded by the International Student Association. Although TEDxMSU 2015 is led by a different group of organizers, our mission is the same: To hold a conference celebrating some of the more unorthodox – but important – viewpoints and ideas on campus.

Watching TED talks has been an internal and external process for me. Internally, it's interesting to think about the thoughts that are shared, but externally, watching someone who has a new idea on treating rheumatoid arthritis or creating a new kind of robot inspires me to action in the things that I want to accomplish in my life as well. This is a point we organizers convened on and hoped to share with our audience.

Working on this event has been a physical, emotional and mental rollercoaster. All of the organizers have experienced valuable lessons on leadership and friendship, and how difficult it is sometimes when the two coincide.

The event tonight will be the culmination of more than a year's work: An accumulation of willpower, perseverance and vision from a small group of students. I'm overwhelmed and gratified by the momentum that we've generated from the support of multiple agencies and organizations on campus: Honors College, College of Natural Science, MSU Alumni Association, multiple residence hall governments, Spartan Innovations and many others.

If each audience member tonight is able to leave with a conviction, we'll have done our job. Our ultimate goal is to galvanize the MSU community, creating a space for people to present their ideas, innovations and thoughts – not just at the annual conference every year, which we'd like to continue, but also every day we interact as learners, teachers, contributors and members of the Spartan network.

Tonight's conference is a labor of love, persistence and hope. It is our example of "The Will,” and we're beyond excited to share it with the audience tonight and the world.

More information on TEDxMSU can be found here.