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Illuminate x Durham: Inspired and Empowered by the Women in S.T.E.M

As a young woman, I have yet to encounter some obstacles they claim to face. My personality is a strange one - too scared to stand out, but too bold to stay silent. Discovering who I truly am and what I live for has been no easy feat, and I am aware of how much more I have to encounter. My journey to a better person has just begun, but opportunities such as the Illuminate x Durham conference have given me the push I need. The strength and motivation I have always desired. Hi everyone! My name is Nuha Khan and I am a Grade 10 student at Pickering High School in Ajax. Yesterday, I had the pleasure to attend Illuminate Universe's regional conference. Here are my thoughts and what I learnt from such a momentous experience.

A lot of the things said during the conference really hit home for me, and to be honest, I felt a little awkward. It was almost like I was singled-out in that call because of how personal it was, and how much I really needed to hear some things. I experienced feelings of motivation, encouragement, and empowerment.

The day started with the opening keynote by Ilona Dougherty. Ilona is an inspiring woman, someone where you’d love to have as a constant guidance to give you pep talks that work. I admit that sometimes, inspirational speeches for youth like the ones on YouTube pretty much go in one ear and out the other for me. It was always the feeling of, “What do you know to speak so confidently about youth?”. However, Ilona’s words felt sincere and almost sympathetic for the women who had faced similar struggles. Her keynote was about the “power of youth” and how we, children, are the face of the future. We, children, can hold our own and be the epitome of innovation. Media presence nowadays has a detrimental influence in the emotions and ideologies of society. As Ilona mentioned, since day one (literally, since the Industrial Revolution), there has always been that lingering stereotype of youth being an economic burden, “lazy” and not at their peak. However, the hardest pill to swallow is that people believe it. The youth are not only succumbed to sheltering that creativity some adults don’t have, they also have to stay silent about it. Innovation that changes the world could be turned down in an instant. I, myself deeply understand that feeling, and it isn’t the most comforting one. In other words, hearing Ilona speak so enthusiastically about the youth and how we are capable of so much, it made me feel proud. She reminded me of my late uncle, who had that same passion for the future of youth. Finally, I figured that, yeah, I should probably stand my ground from now on. Life is too short to hold our thoughts in, and that we should respectfully amplify our voices as much as we can. Overall, my biggest takeaway from Ilona is to never be ashamed of my age, never be ashamed of my gender, and to never shy away from what’s glaring right at you. We, the youth, are the future. We, the youth, have to exercise our creativity for a better humanity.

Secondly, the other speaker who really made me reconsider all of my life choices was Mackenzie Clark. Her workshop entailed the severities of “Imposter Syndrome”, and boy, did that feel personal. As a student who has that awkward balance of study and play, I sometimes feel that my effort is never enough, and that it’s all pure luck. Whenever someone congratulates me of an accomplishment or of my high marks, I am never happy about it. There’s just a lingering thought in my head that screams, “this isn’t your work. You aren’t actually capable of this”. My biggest accomplishment to this day was watered down by self-impertinence, and I felt like a stranger in my own body. The people surrounding me were always so confident in what they did, and never shied away from their successes. It made me think that my emotions were unjustified and preternatural.

So, imagine how I felt when a highly successful woman appears to the conference, and describes same internal hostilities I did for fifteen years. Mackenzie beautifully described what I go through, and she provided very insightful advice. Yes, there is always someone better. However, we are not them, and our successes are individualistic. They are our own to be proud of. Furthermore, we completed an activity to pick a topic we were passionate about. Then, we had to list two concepts and compare our topic with another person. Although I did not share my topic, hearing others say different things about the same topic, really put into perspective as to how unique we each are. The stepping stones are divergent, and so are the feelings of our successes. With that, it's vital to stop comparing yourself and to focus on value - not perfection.

In summation, the things that were said yesterday were truly inspiring. As a woman who wishes to pursue a career in S.T.E.M, and as a youth who has yet to explore the world, I had so much to take away. Thank you to all of the speakers and facilitators that hosted this wonderful event, and I look forward to joining you again! Remember, as Ilona Dougherty said,

"You (the youth) have unique abilities that we need right are the innovation engine of our society."


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