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Beyond the ‘Mirage’: TEDxBrownU conference spotlights self-discovery, possibility

Annual conference featured three student speakers, two faculty speakers

<p>Haleema Aslam ’25 delivered the first talk of the conference, titled “Liberation Through Education.”</p><p>Courtesy of Joshua Phelps</p>

Haleema Aslam ’25 delivered the first talk of the conference, titled “Liberation Through Education.”

Courtesy of Joshua Phelps

TEDxBrownU held its ninth annual conference on March 9, exploring the theme “Mirage” in an event featuring five speakers and an a cappella performance by the Chattertocks. 

Speakers delivered presentations on topics ranging from the importance of liberation through education to the possibility of space tourism. “Mirage represents the things that aren’t visible to our eyes, the things we realize when … we try to discover the deeper truth,” said Claire Kim ’24, co-president of the 46-member TEDxBrownU. 

Haleema Aslam ’25 delivered the first talk of the conference, titled “Liberation Through Education.” Aslam highlighted the importance of education as she discussed her journey from 15-year-old child bride to Brown student.

Despite growing up in a tribe where girls rarely attended school, Aslam learned to read and write, completing her high school education against her mother’s wishes. This commitment to education allowed Aslam to earn a scholarship to a girls’ leadership program in New York, where she later applied for asylum.

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“Believing in yourself, regardless of what your circumstances are … it’s going to take you so far in life. Never think that because the system is unfair, you can’t do something,” Aslam told The Herald. “When I think of child marriages, forced marriages, they’re still happening today. But when I think of my life — and I’m currently getting goosebumps as I’m saying this — I am so thankful I never gave up, because look at where I am today.”

Aslam expressed gratitude for TEDxBrownU and her curation team, who guided her through the formation of her speech, for giving her an outlet to share her story. 

“I knew I would share my story someday,” Aslam said. “I just didn’t know if it would happen at Brown. I chose to give a talk this year because I felt ready, and because … I (realized) if I share my story, it will only inspire and uplift other girls and … tell them what a privilege it is to be free, to be pursuing an education.” 

Chicha Nimitpornsuko ’27 gave a speech titled “Genesis: The Untapped Potential of Space Tourism,” in which she highlighted the future possibilities in the commercial space tourism industry. 

“I thought this topic was just too good not to share,” Nimitpornsuko told The Herald. “I’ve been doing astronomy for a while … This is my passion, this is why I came to the U.S. (and) why I came to Brown, so it’s basically default for me at this point.”

Other speakers included David Chu ’24, who highlighted barriers to growth in the secondhand fashion industry, as well as Associate Professor of Anthropology and Linguistics Paja Faudree MFA’92 and David Upegui, an adjunct lecturer in education. 

Faudree began her talk, “In the Shadows of the Psychedelic Renaissance,” by reciting recent headlines that lauded psychedelics as a cure-all for the suffering of millions. But “the psychedelic revolution is built on a foundation of mass looting and lies,” Faudree said during her speech.

Informed by her time in the Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca, Mexico, Faudree outlined how centuries of Indigenous experimentation revealed which plants were edible or psychoactive. The use of plants like salvia divinorum, which contains psychedelic compounds, by Western pharmaceutical companies “erase(s) the perspectives and contributions of the Sierra peoples,” she added.

Upegui spoke about how the birth of his son, who has Down syndrome, “showed (him his) value system was a mirage.” 

From growing up in Medellín at the height of drug cartel activity to “working at one of the most prestigious institutions in the world,” Upegui valued academic success — and he expected his children to do the same. But his son’s birth showed him the limitations of judging people purely on academic metrics, Upegui said. 

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“The human spirit shines brightly in unexpected corners,” said Upegui. 

Attendees praised the event for being inspirational and informative. 

“The first and last speeches (inspired us) to follow our dreams and to view life as an opportunity to excel,” Petros Gkenos ’27 told The Herald. 

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Irene Zhao

Irene is a freshman from the Washington, D.C. area concentrating in Applied Math and International and Public Affairs. In her free time, she enjoys trying fun new snacks and exploring Providence's parks and shops.



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