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Illuminate x Durham: An Unforgettable experience

Well, this is a new experience! Writing a blog is new to me, but I have so much to say about this conference! I’ll start with an introduction. Hello! My name is Shreya Sen and my pronouns are She/They. I am a grade 9 student at Pickering High School. Leadership is a difficult thing for many people. Some of us are natural-born leaders and some of us need to build up that confidence. Regardless, leadership is a lifelong skill valued by many people socially and is equally valued by employers.


Leadership skills is just one thing that I learned at the Illuminate x Durham conference. This conference was a refreshing change from the repetitiveness of these COVID-19 days, filled with online school and masks. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this eye-opening conference.




We will be going through a few speakers that made an impact on me. Ilona Dougherty (She/Her) is the co-creator and managing director of the Youth & Innovation project at the University of Waterloo. She is an accomplished individual who has always advocated for the voice of youth in important decisions. She has a lot of experience with governance and youth leadership. In 2004, she co-founded Apathy Is Boring, a social enterprise that encourages youth to learn about democracy.



Her opening keynote was about how youth are underestimated socially. Here are a few of my takeaways from this speaker:

  • Challenging the ideas of adults (in a respectful manner) is good and sometimes needs to be done.

  • Do not let yourself be a person in the room only for representation. Your voice matters and can not be shut down.

  • Mentors are supposed to teach you how to be the best version of yourself, not try to make you into them.

  • Young people have ideas that older people cannot come up with.

  • Stand up for what you believe in. Though there may be people pushing you back, you are a capable and strong human being.


This speaker was very insightful. I have always wanted to do social activism but always backed down, because I thought I was “too young”. With the resources that she gave us about getting started in leadership, you may see me up on a podium some time soon!


Next is Mackenzie Clark (She/Her). Mackenzie Clark is a member of Google’s cloud healthcare team. She is a recent graduate from University Of Toronto’s Engineers Science program. She has only had her job at Google for about 10 months, but she is so knowledgeable about it already. She is what I would call an “overachiever”. She does public speaking at conferences often, and was very involved in the school community as a student.





This speaker talked about imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is feeling like you don’t belong or that you’re not qualified enough. People experiencing imposter syndrome don’t even realize that they are feeling this way. Imposter syndrome is something 70-80% of us have experienced at one point in our lives.


Here are some symptoms of imposter syndrome:

  • Low self-esteem

  • Adverse effect on aspirations

  • High levels of stress

  • Inability to enjoy one’s successes

  • Lack of confidence


Imposter syndrome can bring you down. But, you need to bounce back up again. Here are some ways you can start beating imposter syndrome:

  • Stop talking down on yourself

  • Stop comparing yourself

  • Focus on your value, not perfection

  • Make your own pump up playlist

  • Practice power poses


I also enjoyed the portion of the presentation where we wrote down something we were passionate about and had a discussion. It was nice to have people unmuted and actually talking. I also learned a lot from this activity.


Mackenzie was a very raw and authentic person. I really appreciated that. Speakers often have this facade but Mackenzie talked about her hardships in such a manner that made me want to open up to her as well. Everyone knew the feeling of imposter syndrome but never was able to describe it. It is important to remember that other people around you feel the same things that you do. I definitely enjoyed this keynote best and will be remembering imposter syndrome when I go into the workforce.




The final speaker I will be talking to you about is Andrea Gunraj (She/Her)

She is the Vice President of the Canadian Women’s Foundation, as well as a published author. She has 20 years of experience in community-based programming and communications. Her passion for public education and nonprofit leadership is very admirable.






She spoke about the importance of human rights and under marginalized groups. This is a topic that hits really close to home and so I’m really appreciative of this experience. Being able to hear someone talk about the hardships of being a WOC is really awesome.






Gender non-conforming folx and women often get the short end of the stick. Gender equality and empowerment is very important and needs to be talked about more, we need to use our voices to make sure all people feel safe at work, school, and out in the world.






I also liked when she talked about being a “co-mentor”. This is not a term I was familiar with, but is now a term I will be using often. Co- mentorship is important and needs to be done.





All I can say is, wow. This conference was amazing and I hope I have the opportunity to join an Illuminate x Durham conference again. Thank you for this experience and thank you for reading my blog!

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