SMUS Talks Event Builds Student and Community “Connections”

by Candy Li

On April 12, the first ever SMUS Talks event took place in the chapel. It was a TED Talk-style initiative started by a group of Senior School students, featuring speeches from Catherine Olchowy ’03 and Gwendolen O’Connor ’12 – the two guest speakers who are SMUS alums – and students Jiawen Chen, Sasha Pryce-Baff, Tony Liu and Lelia Hoube, all talking about the theme: Connection. The event attracted about 60 attendees from the SMUS community, including faculty, parents, alumni, students and friends.

Ms. Olchowy, an HR strategist, talked about networking as an underrated superpower; Jiawen talked about the fine line – or gradation – between activism and meddling; Sasha shared his insights on the importance of individualism and the connection to the self in such a media-saturated society; Lelia spoke about how it is our connection with one another that makes “a true Canadian”; Tony talked about his journey to address local poverty and homelessness; and Gwendolen shared an especially touching story about her journey of recovery from a stroke she suffered while she was a student. The stories and ideas shared from that evening were extremely insightful, heartfelt and strongly empowering.

As informative as the talks were, I learned even more about “connection” in the process of organizing the event. A quote that I find particularly suitable is one by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

This experience of working and connecting with that group of thoughtful people teaches me the true value of teamwork. To me, as much as teamwork is about getting things done more efficiently as a group, it is also about taking the time and effort to really bond as a team, to try to understand where each opinion comes from and to make compromises.

After the event, I said “Thank you,” far more times than I can recall. I can say on behalf of the organizers just how much we were overwhelmed by the amount of support that we received from the entire school. It is this sense of community that I am so constantly grateful for and hold dear.

For those of you reading this who have a thought of starting an initiative on campus and have doubts or fears: GO DO IT. Sometimes it just takes a bit of effort, commitment and drive to make something really happen. Remember, the entire community has your back.


by Sara Perelmuter

Organizing the SMUS Talks event took so much more time and effort than I had expected. I began as an ordinary student keen to get involved in the SMUS community, but ended up witnessing the most driven, passionate, insightful students whom I call my peers, come together as a whole. This was truly the first experience in my whole life that I believe I witnessed true and personal leadership. I had never encountered this type of leadership before; it was so genuine, pure and so unexpected, that it took me quite some time to even realize that I was supporting, as well as participating in it.

From this experience I learned that it is so important to just put yourself out there. Whether it is to start your own initiative, follow a unique passion or simply start a conversation with a stranger, to develop our lives into a web of meaningful connections and experiences it is absolutely crucial to allow yourself (and even push yourself sometimes) to take risks. Risks can be scary, but the amount that one grows and learns from them is invaluable and incomparable to any other experiences. Being a part of the SMUS Talks organizational team makes me feel proud. It was my way of reaching out and beginning my journey of risk-taking, and encouraging others to begin theirs as well.


by Samina Makhanbetazhiyeva

Every person is good at something specific: technology, planning, communication, promotion and many more areas. When people with different backgrounds come together in order to make something happen, they learn from each other. Every team member brings value. And in large-scale projects, your team is something more than just a group of people; it is your mainstay that you rely on.

Imagine it as if each team member is a part of one whole body and each needs to function well in order to stay healthy. We had to forget about “I”, and replace it with “We”, because we were all in this together, working towards a common goal.

And, of course, there’s no progress without a motivation. The significance of motivation in teamwork is huge, because this is a key for a strong desire to do your best and stay on top of the work. And as a leader, it’s important to keep your team motivated to work towards a common vision.

Organizing the SMUS Talks event certainly gave me valuable life experience. I’ve learned so much about myself as a team worker and about the science behind a good team.

I’m really thankful for people who are driven with the same passion as I am because it’s not always easy to find the right people who think the same way. And you’ll find out that quite often these people are somehow similar to you. This is what brings trust, the base of a team.

A quote from Jim Stovall, an American motivational speaker and writer, sums up what I discovered about good teamwork: “You need to be aware of what others are doing, applaud their efforts, acknowledge their successes, and encourage them in their pursuits. When we all help one another, everybody wins.”


by Nathan Yang

Every time I watched one of those Ted Talks on the internet, I always thought to myself, ”How do those people just get up on stage and give all that away?”

I had always admired the way people were able stand in front of a crowd and share their own hard-earned knowledge to just give it away to the world for free. These are the types of people that want to make a difference in our society and to make us realize new ideas. The passion and drive from these speakers is truly eye-opening, and that is why I felt I had to get involved with creating SMUS Talks.

Our group of leaders, organizers and speakers came together to develop an amazing event that gave amazing students the opportunity to share their ideas with a wider community, and alumni the opportunity to share their own personal and professional knowledge.

Organizing this event was surely not an easy task. However, when our group of driven student organizers was connected to a common goal, the outcome was a fantastic night of awe-inspiring stories and ideas. As an organizer of this event, I am so glad to say that I had a fantastic time working with the entire group.

I can also say that it really is up to you to do something about your world, take the initiative and follow whatever your heart leads you to do. Creating your own experiences is the best way for you to learn. We all want to make our lives worth living, so get up and do, say, or act on your passion.

For me, being part of this SMUS Talks team was an amazing experience. More than just organizing this event, it felt amazing to get up and create something that I had watched on the internet time and time again. I could not be more thankful for the people that I have worked with. I believe we should all get up, take initiative and create something wonderful.


by Mr. Mat Geddes

The first SMUS Talks event was an incredible success! This completely student-run event had students organizing everything from alumni speakers, to rehearsals, to promotion, lighting, audio and video and everything in between. Candy Li was the prime mover. She built a strong team of passionate people around her; and, together they created a vision, a plan, and executed that plan to perfection. With the inclusion of student photography from the Photo Club as well as student musical performances, the event showcased talent across a wide-range of our student body. The speakers were superb and, combined, gave the audience a deep sense of what it means to be connected.

Photos by Hieu Nguyen

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Kyle Slavin
Kyle Slavin is the school's storyteller. Through words and photos, he shares with the community all the amazing things that happen on campus.

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