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Illuminate x Durham Conference | Pioneers of Tomorrow

Updated: May 11, 2021

Hello everyone! My name is Aleeza Wasi and I am a Grade 10 student at Bishop P.F. Reding Catholic Secondary School in Milton. Today, I had the pleasure to attend Illuminate x Durham’s regional conference. Here are my thoughts highlighting what I learned:

Through Ilona Dougherty's opening keynote, I learned about the role of young people in society as innovators, challengers of the status quo, & risk-takers, who can generate bold solutions to the complicated difficulties faced by communities everywhere. She also explained her perspective through a Grace Hopper quote:

"The most dangerous phrase in the language is: It's always been done that way"

This implies that situations must not be dealt with as they've always been just because. The reality behind Grace Hopper's quote could simply be that we are afraid of change, which is an idea that prevents successful problem solving and the progression of communities; However, we must recognize the unique abilities of every individual to see what works and being brave enough to change what doesn't work, which I strongly believe for the sake of a successful future.

I also learned from Ilona that young people have special capabilities that are only possessed during our youth and therefore, this makes them ideal for producing solutions to everyday issues. I will apply this learning about youth in my personal development by getting involved in my community through finding solutions to the issues faced, not just for the sake of experience or kindness, but also that it's of social & economic importance. Truth be told, the abilities of young people are not acknowledged which results in a lack of significant responsibility given and leaves them in what Ilona calls "an endless rehearsal of adulthood" where they're trapped; Further, they gain experience but aren't able to contribute meaningfully.

However, Ilona explains that our idea of young people's abilities changed approximately 200 years ago near the Industrial Revolution and before it, there was less of a gap between childhood and adulthood. Families engaged young people in day-to-day work as soon as they were capable of it and the more helpers, the merrier; They were economically significant and crucial to survival. Soon after much technological advancement, the many young people in an urban environment with no tasks later became troublemakers and the solution to this was mandatory schooling. Through a historical lens, the first schools were about controlling these children and dealing with this issue to them, young people. Over time, a generational divide started to appear and more conflict between them. Chronological age became an established, primary feature of the organization of society which leads to the important culture of separateness, fear of young people, and view of them as incomplete (In the state of becoming); To add, this lead to negative stereotypes and hold deep narratives of how young people have been view. If young people are not engaged, their potential isn't fulfilled and unique abilities are missed out on.

As Ilona said, "The more time spent on education, the more chances for identity formation", this leads to more focus on purpose and the desire to make an impact as seen by this generation. The ideas of building stronger intergenerational relationships, embracing my role as a challenger of the status quo, staying curious, having my voice heard, and contributing (e.g. joining youth advisory councils) are emphasized, which inspired me to act on this much more. Thank you for your insight, Ilona!


Moving onto Dr. Cecile Fradin's workshop session, she taught us about her amazing scientific journey as a woman in a STEM-related career and shared interesting research like her studies on the motion of cellular parts; Further, concepts including apoptosis, the process by which cells in all organisms decide to die and shut down their operations. She also mentioned, "Receiving an education is not just passively listening to what you're being told but thinking about the information you are receiving and putting it to use", which inspired me to constantly take advantage of the knowledge I gain for the better good. Another message she wanted to give us was that the career paths your parents take don’t have to define your own and be a factor in deciding your career. She briefly touched on our best grades coming where our interest lies, which I strongly believe as well. Nextly, Dr. Cecile Fradin was talking about a woman's societal roles and taking care of a household (A job in which joy could be found!). Although, we must be aware that this comes at a cost and a time may come where you must firmly make the decision that you're focused on being successful in pursuing your career. Not to say this is specific to women, men also have a mental burden that could revolve around providing for their families and this is a concept applicable to everybody; Further, there are matters that could keep you being successful as they limit concentration.

After, she speaks about role models like Dr. Cladis who inspired her and that she was studying in a competitive place, which was dominated by male teachers. Unconsciously, she was wondering where her place is in all of this and being able to see a woman in a STEM-related position that she was hoping to attain was very helpful. Dr. Cecile Fradin mentions role models don’t try to make people just like them but encourage them to become themselves and they don’t have to be very similar to you; To add, what matters is you could relate to that person, are inspired by their actions, and admire them for their brilliant work. Develop your own set of values and do not let others define what success is for you. Finally, she speaks about the benefits of university, how to choose your program, and support systems, which taught me more about them. As a woman in STEM, there seem to be many challenges but these can be overcome if you are devoted to pursuing your dreams. Thank you for teaching me more about self-direction, commitment, engagement, and personal definitions of success!


Following, Mackenzie Clark’s wonderful workshop had the theme of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you aren’t qualified for the success you have or the work you’re doing, and the fear that you will be discovered as a fraud. Relating to this means you’re in good company and that this is the domain of a high achiever with high expectations. I’ve learned that 70-80% of people who reported feeling this way at one point were highly successful people, more often women than men, more often minority groups, young professionals, and college students. Effects of imposter syndrome on you could be increased levels of stress, lack of self-confidence, adverse impact on aspirations, and inhibits the ability to enjoy one’s success. That being said, your best topic is you as you know the most about your own achievements and what you can say could be less important than how you say it. Beating imposter syndrome takes ending the comparison of yourself to others, stopping negative self-talk, focusing on your value & not perfection, practicing your power poses and making your own pump-up playlist. She also talks about keeping your aspirations high and continuously reminding yourself that your experiences, perspectives, & knowledge have value. Thank you for teaching me about imposter syndrome and additionally talking about your personal experience with this!


Last but not least, Andrea Gunraj’s closing keynote discusses some learnings on leadership. She works for the Canadian Women’s Foundation and has been working in non-profit organizations for around 20 years; Further, she’s been focused on social change, human rights, and human services. The goal of the foundation is to support women, girls, and gender diverse people to move from poverty & violence into confidence & leadership. She has also been in leadership roles within non-profit organizations at municipal, provincial, and national levels. I learned more about prioritizing human rights wherever I am. I will apply my learning in my personal development by possibly working in a non-profit or simply giving the idea of helping others much greater importance within my school environment, among my friends & family, and my neighbourhood; Further, by shining light on issues like discrimination or unfairness, I could help to change this for better. It’s great to start with ourselves and learning about matters first as we feel tempted to speak about topics we know little about so it’s really important to do our homework which covers great courses, material, videos online, as there are countless resources. I can listen to people who look up to me and value me but also those who don’t. If I’m in a leadership position, I can listen very carefully to the voices that aren’t heard instead of the loudest ones and applying my learnings to benefit them. Even if my work is not recognized, I still should prioritize human rights as it’s the right thing to do. Thank you for enlightening me on prioritizing human rights and the work you’ve done, Andrea Gunraj!


Overall, the conference was fantastic from the insightful keynotes to the interactive workshops! It felt great to finally present the case study with my team and see the innovative solutions from the other teams. It’s difficult to choose what I enjoyed most about Illuminate x Durham’s conference but if I had to choose, it would probably be Dr. Cecile Fradin's workshop session as she taught many valuable and interesting lessons. I gained so much knowledge and enjoyed this conference. Thank you for this amazing experience!


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