Content warning: mentions of sexual assault

Over 1,300 University of Michigan community members attended the annual TEDxUofM event Friday at the Power Center for Performing Arts with the theme SHATTERPROOF. Eight speakers from across the University of Michigan community presented 10-15 minute talks on topics related to resilience and withstanding adversity. In addition to the talks, the event included musical performances from Gmen and Groove, two music student groups on campus. 

Returning to an in-person event this year, TEDxUofM is a student-run initiative inspired by TED, but independently organized by U-M students. Throughout the event, University-affiliated presentations, performances and speakers discuss ideas across different disciplines, while all connecting to a specific theme. The conference first launched in Ann Arbor in 2010, and has occurred annually since. 

LSA senior Amala Nayak, one of the co-directors of the event, told The Michigan Daily that organizing this event was gratifying because the process was very collaborative.

“It’s so rewarding to know that you are creating an event that people really care about and are excited to go to,” Nayak said. “I just love how dedicated our team is … I think we’ve done a really good job of creating a collaborative community this year.” 

Education senior Corin Siksay told The Daily prior to the event that they were looking forward to attending and seeing all the U-M alumni, students and faculty that would be featured.

“I loved the little events in the beginning and I was pleasantly surprised at the entire setup for the event,” Siksay said. “We are here to support our friend from our sorority, Becca Wong, who is speaking tonight.”

The conference brought three U-M alumni back to Ann Arbor: Thomas Laub, Eli Rallo and Dr. Gene Rontal. Art & Design senior Muriel Steinke told The Daily prior to the event she was excited to hear from U-M alumni. 

“There are a lot of alumni in store for us,” Steinke said. “I think it’s great that the University has a platform for people to talk about controversial and pressing issues.”

Before the event began, stands were placed outside the auditorium with activities for the attendees, including a personality quiz to match speakers to attendees. Another activity offered attendees to write down a topic that they could give a 2-minute TED talk on. Live jazz performances by local jazz band Joe and the Ruckus were also included in the event.

LSA Junior Sara Huang, one of the co-directors of TEDxUofM helped introduce the event by explaining the theme “SHATTERPROOF,” which refers to the idea of remaining resilient. 

“Our theme this year is SHATTERPROOF,” Huang said. “Resilience is found in all of us despite the size of the challenge. Our goal for today is to create an atmosphere that leaves you wondering about the world around you and what it truly means to be SHATTERPROOF.”

‘#electrifyeverything’: Consumption, renewable energy

Earth & Environmental Studies professor Adam Simon focused his talk on energy consumption and renewable energy and that all humans share a common interest in using energy on a daily basis, which broadly framed the concept of energy consumption.

“Close your eyes and take yourself back to this morning,” Simon said. “You took your phone battery fully charged. Energy all around you. Did you pull food out of the refrigerator? Did you microwave it? … That’s just your morning, all day long you consume energy.”

Simon said the temperatures are rising globally but it is hard to know exactly how it affects society on a day-to-day level. However, Simon said the effect of increasing temperatures has affected crop yields on a large scale. 

“As populations increase to 10 million, crop yields are going down,” Simon said. “What if I told you I have a solution? We can keep our temperatures in that sweet spot … all we have to do is transition to an energy system completely powered by renewable energy. This is what we need to do and we need to do it now. We have to be okay with some negative impacts if we want to transition to #electrifyeverything.”

Simon said every person within a $200k+ income range that considers climate change a crisis should act on it and encouraged audience members to engage in the voting process.

‘Storytelling and fiction are necessities’

University alum Thomas Laub delivered a lecture on storytelling as an art form. Laub said true storytelling gives people the power to change the world.

“What kind of stories do you want to be a part of?” Laub said. “Storytelling is our only unlimited resource. It can be passionate, angry or terrifying … Even engineers and data scientists can be storytellers and share their experiences.”

In an interview with The Michigan Daily prior to the event, Laub said he was excited to share how the pandemic affected his view of what he loved most — storytelling. 

“What I love most about storytelling is how to share our stories and why we’re sharing those stories,” Laub said. “The takeaway from my speech is that storytelling and fiction are necessities. We have to uplift storytellers and make sure that we’re celebrating our artists or else there’s no reason to be here.”

Mindfulness in media, entertainment

Art & Design MFA student Razi Jafri spoke about his experience as a filmmaker, which rocket launched after he received an email from the SXSW Film Festival that changed his life — his documentary, Hamtramck, USA, was selected to be featured in the festival. 

“I created this film because Hamtramck is the first Muslim-American city in Michigan,” Jafri said. “There is so much fear about Muslims in America. Ninety-four percent of portrayals in films are negative or unfavorable … Every community deserves to be seen with truth and nuisance and I hope our work is seen by a wider audience.”

Jafri said he had a hard time finding fulfillment with his career. He started off pursuing engineering, but as he became more involved in activism on campus, he found a new passion. Jafri said his interest in photography also helped him share stories and experiences of refugees.

Jafri later told The Daily that he wanted to inspire change in the audience, specifically through the media. 

“I wanted to call on the audience to be a bit more mindful, aware and conscious of how they choose their media and entertainment,” Jafri said. “I wanted them to try to open up their minds and their cultural preferences to communities that are all around us, but we don’t really get to hear from them. The byproduct will be better relationships, a better sense of community and more peace and harmony in our society.”

Healing, perceptions of sexual assault experiences

LSA senior Becca Wong focused her talk on the intersection of social identity, perceptions of justice and decision-making after experiences of sexual assault

Wong shared the five steps of healing that she went through and wanted to give the information for others to know if they ever find themselves in a similar situation. 

“Grief — I had to grieve my old self in order to make room for the new one,” Wong said. “Jealousy of my past self encompassed in ignorance and innocence. Anger that I would be changing into a new person beyond my control. Duality, with every healing process there is comfort and disarray, celebration and grief, people who suffer also deserve joy. And the last part is multidimensionality, where I learned how to put myself together.”

Wong said that we can’t always control what happens to us, but we can choose how we put ourselves together and move forward. 

Dance as a “universal language”

Dr. Fangfei Miao, assistant professor of dance in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, spoke about connecting dance to her interests in Asian studies. Throughout her talk, Miao incorporated dance and movement to accompany her words. When asked about this approach to presenting her talk in an interview with The Daily, Dr. Miao said dance helps share stories with all types of people as a universal language. 

“I find it very interesting because I can have multiple layers of performance,” Miao said. “The movement can be a layer and the talking is another layer. The movement can explain the words, but movement can also contrast the words. There are just many ways to play with that and add multiple types of information to the audience.”

A unique career pivot

In his talk, adjunct otorhinolaryngology professor Dr. Gene Rontal described his career pivot when he decided to use his background as a doctor to write medical mystery books.

“I think most people believe that doctors don’t have imagination,” Rontal said. “They kind of see imagination as daydreaming or something like that. It’s not true. Doctors have a lot of imagination.”

Rontal told The Daily about his inspiration for writing medical mystery books and what he believes they can inspire.

“When I write a book, I want to have a momentary suspension of disbelief where the person reading the book can say to themselves that this could really happen,” Rontal said. “I want to inform people that the book they are reading about medicine is a great way to understand what goes on in the medical business. It explains how it works, what you do, what’s right and what’s wrong. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Social media, developing self confidence

University alum Eli Rallo spoke about the representation of female bodies on social media. As a TikTok and Instagram content creator, Rallo said she uses her platform to inspire her followers to be authentic. 

In her speech, she talked about how her mindset regarding social media has changed as she has grown more confident in herself. She said she used to have a toxic relationship with social media in which she tried to make her life seem different online to meet societal standards. 

“It’s addicting to have a mirror to reality where we can micromanage our appearances and tell the stories society desperately wants us to tell, ones that I believe subconsciously we also want to tell ourselves” Rallo said during her speech. “My imperfections could not be brightened or whitened or tightened in real life, but they absolutely could be, or at least I could try to make them online.”

Rallo also told The Daily that she hopes that if the audience could take away one message, it would be to stop caring about the opinions of other people.

“Don’t lie just to please people that you don’t care about anyway,” Rallo said.” If you’re being kind, doing your best job and working hard, and someone has a problem with something you’re doing, they have no basis for that. So who cares? If you’re just doing your thing, who cares? Live for you. Stop wasting time. You will start living so fully when you can be true to yourself.”

Gold medalist promotes positivity

Medical student Sam Grewe discussed his journey as a Paralympian. At 13-years old, Grewe was diagnosed with bone cancer and had his leg amputated. His love of sports led him to join the U.S Paralympic Track and Field Team, where he won World Championship titles as well as a gold medal at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

“I think it’s important to tell about all the bad things, the cancer diagnosis, the amputation and the academic life,” Grewe said in an interview with The Daily. “But it is really rewarding to put into words how far I’ve come and how proud I am to be in the position that I’m in. That’s definitely a lot of fun.”

Grewe said he hopes others will maintain a positive attitude and believe that things will work out in the end.

“I encourage them to try to keep perspective as they go through life, to understand that not everything will make sense right now, and to search for purpose and to search for meaning in bad things,” Grewe said. “Sometimes it’s a fruitless effort, but just trusting that the dots will connect in your future and doing what you can to make sure that they do is all just part of that journey.”

Daily Staff Reporters Carly Brechner and Sejal Patil can be reached at and