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Reviving The Ability to Dive Again, Thanks to Illuminate X Durham

Updated: Apr 19, 2021

Diving into water is very scary. Even if you'll probably be propelled back to the surface and the chances of you dying are almost 0, it still terrifies you to dive into the water. The water may be calm and pristine, or it may be turbulent and violent. The waves could swallow you, or you could merely disrupt it's vibe for a couple moments with a few ripples. Something you cannot change is the water, but you can change yourself before you dive in. The water, was my first ever case competition, and I was a person who took virtually no business courses in high school and who hadn't participated in DECA except wish I could from the sidelines. I had always been scared to join clubs in high school. I had a revolutionizing moment over quarantine that compelled me to give myself hope and just try, and so since, I've been participating in clubs and opportunities because I find them very fun and engaging!

Hello everyone, my name is Kobiga Seralathan and I'm a grade 12 student at J Clarke Richardson Collegiate who had the pleasure of attending The Future of Women in Leadership and STEM conference hosted by Illuminate X Durham! Join me with this blog post as I recollect my thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding the conference, where my team won 1st place in the Deloitte Case Competition.

All this time, I hadn't really been challenging myself that much, just with baby steps. In these clubs, my ability to meet new people was tested, yes, but other than that, I had signed up for roles with tasks I was cozy with and that I already was comfortable with. That was when Regional Lead Richa Patel approached me and asked me if I wanted to become a High School Coordinator with Illuminate, and the captain of a team participating in their Future of Women in Leadership and STEM conference. I thought it seemed fun! I immediately signed up, asked a lot of people and ended up recruiting some of my friends who were willing to join this crazy adventure with me, dragged my sister along to join my team, and soon enough, we were one of the registered and accepted teams eligible to participate in weekly activities and the conference. We were team 17, and before the last week we were in 3rd, but we finally came in 6th place for their points competition from all the weekly activities leading up to the conference! Yipee!

We had a week to work with our case study before the conference. This was when things became challenging. I for one, am not a techy individual or business smart individual. I had no experience at all. Although I was used to leading school group projects and children in my endeavours outside of school, I hadn't really led a team of people more experienced, talented and hardworking than I was before, and my attempts to be there for such wonderful teammates as a good leader sometimes made me feel that I wasn't being a good enough leader. It should be noted that all my teammates except one were also experiencing their first case competition. I always felt they had to lead themselves because I was so incompetent and that's why we were getting a lot of work done, and that they didn't need me as a leader. The only thing I was good at was research, which was the core for some of our presentation. Later on, in the conference, I learned these thoughts and feelings were Impostor Syndrome.


Speaking about the conference, after a lot of preparation and worrying, we were ready for the big day! We had an opening keynote, and it started our day off beautifully! The speaker was Ilona Dougherty, the Co-Director and Managing Director of the Youth and Innovation Project at the University of Waterloo! She's an award winning social innovator. I must say, I will highlight her speech more in this post, because it was the one that impacted me the most. Every concept she mentioned was one I had never realized before, and she changed the way I view myself relative to the rest of society, and the roles and power certain individuals such as adults hold. She talked about how we should be tapping into the unique abilities of youth. We live in an endless rehearsal for adulthood, but our youth’s job is to challenge the status quo.

Once upon a time, long time ago, such as the times where everyone had farms and we weren't urbanized, families engaged people of varying ages to work around the house, like an apprenticeship where as you age you get more responsibility. Children and young people were economically essential and you needed them to make the family unit work. After the industrial revolution, everyone moved to urban spaces. While early times had child labour, we had less and less child labour as the revolution and technology grew, because when technology increased children didn’t need to work. They had no job anymore, and the tables ended up being flipped.

Now they’re more of an economic burden instead of an economic essential. Once this happened, our stage of youth and adolescence was viewed a certain way. The words defining this stage were juvenile delinquency, it was perceived kids had nothing to do and got into trouble. As a solution, they introduced mandatory schooling to fix the problem identified of young people. My kind went from capable members of society with a lot to contribute to a problem needing to be solved in society. The solution might have backfired though, school caused a larger divide, a generational divide, and the isolation of youth from other members of society became greater than ever!

Ilona touched on topics such as:

  1. Culture engagement

  2. Youth no longer being important

  3. Young people are now a dangerous cohort

The perception of youth by other members of society has a huge impact. For some young people this has led to life and death while the identities a young person represented became dangerous! We see young people as incomplete in the state of an adult, instead of being young or old, or an actual entity that isn't a violent transition phase. We don’t value the idea of becoming in our society, people value you more when you're actually something. Adults being something, youth becoming something, this isn't relevant in societal standards and importance. There are so many stereotypes, young people being lazy, entitled, this holds 200 years of history and this narrative is quite sad.

How engaged young people can be in society! Research shows young people have great abilities. We must shift the perspective of young people. Neuroscience and psychology tells us we possess a lot of abilities. Brains don’t fully mature until the age of 25... except if we listen to the media, only half the picture is painted. Some parts of our brain have yet to mature, but some are already at a peak and are starting to decline by 25! Young people are experimenters that adults aren’t, risk takers for coming up with bold solutions, we've spent more time in education than ever before, and our potential to grow while becoming isn't recognized, our generation is more focused on purpose and meaning more than others!

My largest takeaway I must say from Ilona's keynote, was that me BECOMING was okay, and that becoming has a lot of impact. We not be scared to share new ideas, adults can share wisdom and research, but we can contribute too! Illona told us to make intergenerational relationships, like joining youth advisory councils and political parties, and that we should stay curious. Something that had a lot of impact was that we shouldn't be afraid to be at the table, since being in the room is only half the battle. Thanks Ilona!


Next, we had Dr. Cecile Fradin join us for a workshop. It was very engaging, and one of the most impactful moments was how ingrained stereotypes can be, and how even if we don't realize it, we think with stereotypes and that's a societal issue! She asked us a riddle about how a surgeon couldn't operate on their son and how they could say that when the son's father had brought the son to the hospital. Many did not consider that the surgeon could be the boy's mother, and instead thought the boy had two dads.

My biggest takeaway from her was that education is not about listening what’s told to you, it’s about thinking and making informed decisions for yourself. She said we need to have our own support network, and to not bring down other women, but help them grow! The field you want to go into is shaped differently from the people before you, and their goals are different from yours, success is not defined by how many articles you publish, she argues some things have nothing to do with success! I think you're successful if you're happy and working towards something meaningful and positively beneficial to you. You will be measured against some metrics that aren’t best for you, so you should decide for yourself what successful means and don’t let others tell you!

SHE ALSO TAUGHT US SOME VERY COOL SCIENCE! Here are some pictures! I think I was most interested by magnetotactic bacteria, a group of bacteria that orient themselves along the magnetic field lines of Earth's magnetic field, with iron oxide crystals.


MacKenzie Clark, a software engineer at Google in the cloud healthcare team, works to make healthcare more accessible to patients across the world! She did a workshop on impostor syndrome and discussed her battle against it, and that was when I realized I had impostor syndrome too! I related very much to the idea of luck just being what brought me much fortune and success, and truthfully, it was how I felt when my team was declared the first place winner in the case competition, and how I felt throughout the conference while I tried to lead my team! I really was able to resonate, and I'm glad we had this workshop where we could reflect on ourselves! There was actually a moment where MacKenzie asked people to speak up about a topic someone else gave, and I spoke about how you can go into technological design and other art and communications careers and still be successful, forgetting the norms that going into STEM is what makes you successful as what the previous generation believes.


Finally, last but not least, the closing keynote, by Andrea Gunraj! She's the vice president of the Canadian Women's Foundation, and a Published Author! She spoke to us on a variety of topics. She discussed human rights, equality, and activism. She said we must prioritize human rights, and that the inequality between men and women was still an issue. It's especially difficult being a female, but even more so difficult if you're a person of colour, are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, have disabilities, or fall into any other minority! We all have the power to bring equality and reform in some way to our society, it can be something as quick as choosing a female player when picking teammates for gym class, or as large scale as founding your own organization advocating for gender equality, but they all have impact, and that's what matters! When you help others, you will feel better too, and it's a win-win situation. Another way to help people is to become a co-mentor! This means that you're willing to help others to progress their growth while being receptive to other's attempts to do the same for you, even if that means you must accept criticism. It's really important to be aware that others are on their journey to growth and so being respectful, kind and thoughtful can go a long way!


I heard from a lot of talented women today. They each had their own battles, and lessons to share with me, and I'm grateful to have been able to be in a call with them to hear their experiences, thoughts, feelings, motivations, emotions and advice! I can't wait to implement this in my daily life, and the next time I'm too scared to dive into the water, I'll remember these powerful women and the impacts they've had on me. Thank you, Illuminate X Durham, for pushing me into these challenging and insightful waters, and for giving me the ability to dive in them myself again!

Thank you for reading through my blog post, and I hope you can gather these thoughts and apply them to make a positive difference both to yourself and your community!


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