Receiving a TEDx license is like getting an extra birthday present which is far more than you expected but better than anything you could have wanted. The questions I am sure every TEDx licensee has after the initial moment of elation and terror is how to shape and mould an event that will do justice to the vision and inspiration which is the hallmark of TEDx. Luckily for us we have a university overflowing with brilliant minds and exciting research to draw on plus a 90th birthday to celebrate. The city we are based in is one of the most edgy and dynamic cities in Africa. It’s a winning combination so the question is what stories do we want to tell ourselves and the world about our visions, our past and our future?
Wits is 90 this year. For many that is a very young university, a toddler really, but this toddler has been like the birthday gift far more than one could have expected. What started off as a place funded and geared to the mining industry has grown into one of the top 400 universities in the world. In a country with only 10 Nobel prize winners Wits has produced 4 of them. The questions for our team have been simple. Should we celebrate the past, the present or the future? The past hardly seems the place to focus a TEDx event which is so centrally about vision and inspiration. The past however also holds the history and source of our current vision so it has to somehow feature as part of our event.
Wits does not have a completed online record of all of its former lecturers or alumni who have excelled in various fields. At present there is a wiki page and the alumni magazine has an excellent obituary section which is constantly being updated but the problem is it is an obituary column which carries its own limitations. We do not however have a completed list and probably never will but we can use those pages to open a conversation about the teachers and students from Wits past who have changed the way we think about the world. Everyone from Raymond Dart with the discovery of the Taung skull to Johnny Clegg with his fusion of Rock and African music is worth thinking about. We want to encourage students to explore the people who have gone before them and to ask them who of those individuals they recognise as people who have changed the way they think about the world.
It’s an opportunity to apply the spirit of TEDx to our world as we start to plan our own TEDx event. That it seems is what TEDx does. It changes our understanding of the world and it seems an ideal opportunity to link the two through inspiring our potential audience at Wits. We hope this will be an ongoing conversation which will form part of the legacy of our event.