An Idea Worth Spreading


The Harvard Independent interviews the brains behind TEDxHarvardCollege.


Pulkit Agarwal (PA): So could you all start by telling us a little bit about the roles that you have played within the organization of TEDxHarvardCollege?

Tony Thumpasery (TT): I’ve been involved with TEDx for the last 2 years, and although I joined as a junior member in 2015, I got to partake in the initial deliberations alongside Christian. I became a board member shortly after, and this year I am the President and Curator of TEDxHarvardCollege.

Alexander Olapade (AO): So, as the Marketing Director for TEDxHarvardCollege, I am tasked with leading the promotion campaigns, designing the logos, and ensuring that the event is receiving its fair bit of attention on social media. I will be leaving this position soon after our next event, as I’ll be graduating at the end of this semester.

Christian Haigh (CH): I co-started TEDxHarvard in my freshman year. I felt that our campus lacked a forum on which people could share a diversity of ideas openly with other students, alumni, and the wider society. Our goal, ever since, has been to serve as that platform.

PA: Could you tell us a little bit about TEDxHarvardCollege? When and where is it going to take place, and what does it hope to accomplish?

TT: Well, we are still a young organization. We started in Spring 2015 with an event for about 300-400 people, and are now organizing one for almost a thousand people in Sanders Theater. It will take place on September 18, from 1 to 5pm. Our main goal is certainly to grow; to create forums for educators and students to discuss ideas. Not just ideas that are revolutionary, but those that are not being talked about. For instance, we have a speech this year on Machine Learning—a very hot and interesting topic—and the role it can play in furthering our knowledge about autism. There is also a talk by Mark Penn, who advised Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2008, which I think is going to be extremely interesting!

PA: And what was the process by which you selected the speakers? Is there a theme around which all the talks are going to be centered?

TT: Our theme is “Incite Insight.” So in general I think all the talks will be about ideas that will give the audience things to reflect on; ideas that will stem from a diversity of disciplines, but will all be in some sense novel and revolutionary. And through the selection process, we tried to ensure that these were the kind of speeches at the event. We looked at several pitches from people wishing to speak; we partnered with Fortier Public Relations, who gave us speakers that we think will align with the mission of our event; and, we also invited people from the Harvard and MIT community more generally.

PA: Seeing as the event is taking place in Sanders Theater—right at the heart of campus—what is the sort of response that you seem to be getting from the students?

AO: Last year we sold out. This year, once again, since we have scaled a very ambitious project this time around, we have tried to pub the event as much as possible: We have tried to do everything possible to tell everyone on campus about this great event that they should consider attending. We have even provided several discounted tickets. At the end of the day, the speakers can constitute only a half of the event; the rest is always about the audience.

TT: And the response has been really great. Lots of freshmen and visiting students have been approaching me over the last couple of weeks, asking about our event and how they can get involved.

PA: How do you plan to ensure that this event reaches as many people outside of Harvard as possible?

AO: Every TEDx organization is required to film its talks and post them online. So that is definitely one way that we can get people from everywhere in the world to have access to this event, so long as they have YouTube. Hopefully, if we make it to the TED website then that would be great too!

PA: One of the key elements in the marketing for this event has been its interdisciplinary nature. What do you think that adds to the speeches that having a more focused and one-dimensional approach might lack?

AO, TT: It’s definitely got to do with proximity. Just engaging in a conversation with cutting-edge leaders from so many diverse fields, all in the same room, discussing ideas that are compelling and peek interest from diverse audiences: there is so much value in that. It brings out the most fresh and new approaches to the world. We often find ourselves stuck in a certain way of seeing things. If you think your intellectual life feels stale, then this a chance to meet people who have an unusual approach to ideas. You may just see connections that you didn’t know existed!

PA: That’s really great! Just one last question: what legacy do you think this event is going to leave behind, and how do you see TEDx evolving on campus in the future?

CH: When we first started, we were a much smaller organization than we are now. We used to organize events jointly with Boston College, MIT and BU. We like to organize events of this stature every year, but we also mix it up with smaller events that allow audiences to interact more closely with the speakers. I think what we’re doing now, and what we have done thus far, is going to evolve into a very unique component of the intellectual environment at Harvard.

Pulkit Agarwal ([email protected] agrees that Incite Insight has excited many Harvard College students this year!