The Endless Potential of TEDxHope: Conversations and Aspirations with the Executive Team

Photo credit: Adam Vander Kooy

TEDxHope College is a student-driven organization whose mission is to “spread ideas worth sharing” through live speeches prepared and delivered by Hope students. 

The fourth annual TEDxHope event took place this year on Saturday, February 10, at 7 pm in the Knickerbocker Theater downtown. The night included a line-up of nine student speakers across all grade levels and a variety of disciplines, with topics as diverse as the current conversational environment in higher education, the impact of comics on culture, the unsettling similarities between screen time and cigarettes, and more. 

The Knickerbocker Theater offered a comfortable experience for attendees of the event, complete with plush seats, professional lighting, and concessions during intermission. Iconic red cubes and a circular red carpet sat on the stage, while student volunteers handled admissions in the lobby area and handed out notebooks for guests. These complementary features were intentional, according to Andrew Haggerty, the Assistant Director of Student Life who served as the faculty advisor for the event. “The fact that we have notebooks is not random–it’s to give you an easy way to engage and to kind of jot notes down. The fact that we have an intermission, with free concessions, to get people out of their seats, isn’t random. It’s to kind of try to pull people out and into conversations,” stated Haggerty.

Lauren Tocco (‘24), the student director of TEDxHope College, shared some of the behind-the-scenes work that she and her team invested during the past several months in preparation for the event. “My role as director involved working directly with Hope College Events and Conferences to coordinate the event space reservation, meeting with our advisor, Andrew, to make sure things like ticketing and budgeting were well planned and taken care of, and delegating tasks to my team among other things,” stated Tocco. 

Both Tocco and Haggerty named hearing the students’ finished speeches as their favorite part. Though Haggerty was part of the selection committee at the beginning of the year, he was less involved in the speech planning and revisioning processes. “Some of the drafts I read, you know, had interesting ideas but definitely weren’t there in a coherent flow, and then next thing I know, I get to see it happen [during rehearsal]…and I’m like, ‘oh, that came a long way.’”

Photo credit: Adam Vander Kooy

This was Haggerty’s first year serving as advisor for the TEDxHope event, but he was introduced to TEDx as a concept in college when his best friend delivered a talk at Michigan State. He shared more about his enthusiasm for TEDx as a program and the unique way it functions at undergraduate institutions like Hope. “In the broader TED landscape, as I think about the TED talks that a lot of people have seen or that have really informed me, a lot of them are from older people that are experts in their fields that are giving a talk on something they’ve worked on for like 30 years,” said Haggerty. “Something that I think is really cool [at Hope] is that…we have chosen to narrow the focus to students. I think it really recognizes the expertise that students do have.”

He continued, “You don’t necessarily have to be working in a field for 30 years to have something to say. And so focusing on students as speakers gives them an opportunity to reflect on, recognize, and own their ideas and their knowledge and their expertise.”

TEDxHope College was started four years ago during the 2020-2021 school year by Lizzy Bassett (‘23), who in turn urged Lauren Tocco to get involved. Tocco commented on the ways TEDxHope has evolved since its founding: “From starting at Jack Miller to moving to DeWitt Theater, then to the Knickerbocker Theater where we currently host our event, the team has gone through changes with each new executive team.” Despite the organization’s growth in the past few years, it remains “relatively unknown on campus.” Tocco expressed her hopes that the event continues to reach new students and that it eventually becomes “a beloved student organization.”

Haggerty echoed some of these aspirations, seeing the event’s potential to be “a catalyst for continued conversations” on campus. “I definitely have hopes and a pretty strong feeling…that those who do engage with TEDx keep talking in the future. That’s kind of the point–that it’s a starting point and not a conclusive event that ends when it’s over.”

The theme of this year’s event was “The Endless Journey,” an idea that corresponds both to the persisting nature of the TED talks themselves and the personal “endless” journeys that students experience in college. Tocco commented on the team’s rationale behind choosing this theme: “We constantly see things begin and end, but we wanted students to dig into the things they saw or experienced as ‘endless’ in their lives and reflect on how these things impacted them or the people around them.” Speakers took this overarching theme and explored some of the most enduring concepts, goals, or problems they have encountered in their lives. 

The TED talks themselves have the potential to continue to impact people for years to come because of the requirement that they be video recorded and posted on TED’s online platform. “TED as an organization has kind of a global culture and a global following,” stated Haggerty. “So, you never know, if Hope College’s TEDx program is going to land on someone’s radar, if you find the right topic where you kind of catch the right group…who knows the reach that is happening. It’s cool to know that that’s a possibility.”

Tocco shared an example of a past TEDxHope talk that has had an exceptional impact. “A really cool thing happened to our curator liaison and past speaker, Brooke [Bennett (‘24)],” said Tocco. “She gave a talk two years ago about the price of insulin and how people with diabetes can no longer easily afford the very thing they need to survive. Her talk was viewed by over 67 thousand people and she was invited on a podcast to talk about her experiences.” 

“It is so incredible to me that a talk from a small college like ours could impact so many people. And I know that our speakers this year will reach many people, just as Brooke did,” shared Tocco. 
All nine talks from this year’s TEDxHope event were live-streamed and released on YouTube by Hope College (click here to watch). The individual talks will be processed by the TEDx organization and released later this year on the TEDx YouTube channel.

(Featured image credit: Adam Vander Kooy)

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