First Vera Summit showcases student ideas

Joseph Diebold

Modeled after the popular TED Talks conference series, a new student initiative pledging to help students “discover something true” hosted its first summit Sunday.

The Vera Summit brought about 100 students and alumni to Northwestern’s Ryan Family Auditorium to witness student performances and short speeches on a variety of topics including public health, education and gender equality.

Weinberg junior Jeziel Jones, the founder of the summit, emceed Sunday’s talks. Jones said he conceived of Vera as a means of allowing NU students to express themselves.

“I thought to myself, ‘How great would it be if all the students I know who have these great ideas had a platform, a stage, to voice these amazing ideas, ideas that potentially shatter new ground?'” Jones said.

The word “vera,” which appears in NU’s motto and is Latin for “true,” was chosen, Jones said, because the summit seeks to find speakers who can illuminate ideas that are objectively true.

“I wanted to make a distinction between truth and true,” he said. “True is a superlative. Truth can be personal, truth can be subjective, but true is not. We want to draw a line between what’s true and everything else.”

Jones said the Vera team hopes to host quarterly summits and bring them to other schools in Illinois. Sunday’s speakers were selected by the Vera organizers from an open application process. Besides the talks, the summit also included a dance performance by Bienen junior Rohan Lewis.

One speaker at Sunday’s summit was McCormick junior David Tuber, who discussed the cultural power of memes and the Internet.

“Because we now suddenly have this influx of cultural content and this widespread ability to judge and pick and choose for ourselves, we are not only giving ourselves personal happiness but we’re killing the music industry, we’re killing the entertainment industry,” he said. “Now I get to find the small things that make me happy. That’s what culture is all about.”

Tuber urged audience members to leave the summit, write down an idea and put it on the Internet because the web requires a constant influx of new content from its users.

Organizers attempted to harness the collective power of the Internet by getting speakers and audience members to interact with the summit’s Twitter account, asking questions and providing commentary. Jones said for Vera, keeping the audience involved was equally as important as the speakers and their content.

The final Sunday speaker was Communication junior Rayyan Najeeb. Najeeb’s talk, “23 Hours,” focused on the importance of an organized life. Najeeb argued that by being organized, one can accomplish everything they need to in a day’s first 23 hours, leaving the 24th for personal reflection.

Najeeb said he felt Vera was playing an important role in the NU community.

“I found (speaking) to be a service that was needed,” he said. “I know Northwestern needs innovative ideas and diverse thinking to really stimulate and grow and innovate. Vera Summit is a platform where a diverse group of students can have a platform to basically display certain ideas.”

Each audience member was given a seed as they entered the summit. Jones explained to the crowd the item was symbolic of the need to bring the ideas of Vera to the broader campus community.

“Tonight you guys will get a chance to plant a seed,” he said. “That seed represents an idea. We want you to hold onto one, and we want you to take that seed and plant it outside of these grounds.”

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