When I stepped on campus in fall 2011, my only goal was to become the best musician I could be. I was fortunate to be accepted into professor Gail Williams’ French horn studio, one of the most competitive music programs in the country. From the very start, professor Williams ’76 MMus, or Gail as we called her, encouraged us to figure out what we were truly passionate about and explore our other interests. This wasn’t meant to discourage our horn studies. Rather, she believed that this would make us well-rounded individuals with the ability to contribute whatever we could to society.
So I did as Gail advised and began to enroll in classes outside of the Bienen School of Music, including Analytics of the Social Good and History of the Holocaust. I joined a Greek organization, worked as a campus tour guide and served on the leadership team for Tufaan Entertainment, a national Bollywood dance competition. And as I investigated the world outside the practice room, I began discovering my peers’ and professors’ unique ideas and perspectives. Whether we were at “Norbucks” (the Starbucks at Norris University Center) discussing socioeconomic disparity in the United States, in a class where a football player expressed the difficulties and joys of being a student-athlete, or outside of Regenstein Hall arguing over which Mahler symphony was best, I was constantly surrounded by novel ideas that I had never heard before.
In fall 2013 I knew I had to figure out how to put these ideas on display on a larger scale than just the scattered sessions in and out of the classroom, or around residence halls, or in student organizations.
I’m an avid TED talk fan — I love that I can gain new perspectives and learn about different ideas by watching a 10- to 20-minute video. I realized that with TEDx, the community version of TED, I’d be able to provide a platform for the Northwestern community to have its voice heard on a bigger stage. I applied for a license from TEDx, and soon numerous people reached out to me, including a Northwestern alumnus who worked for TED, and Michele Weldon ’79, ’80 MS, a journalism professor who wanted to help.
We decided that this was going to be a joint effort and a universitywide event. I felt that because Northwestern places such an emphasis on the undergraduate experience, I wanted this event to do the same.
When I reflected on my time at Northwestern, I realized that the undergraduate experience was built on crossing paths. As a music major with an interest in consulting, I was crossing paths between the arts and business. My twin, Natasha ’15, who also studied music, crossed paths by studying global health and earning a Fulbright and a Clinton Fellowship for Service in India for public health research. This interdisciplinary approach wasn’t unique to Natasha and me — this was a common theme among our fellow students, creative and analytical thinkers who had diverse interests.
After narrowing the pool of prospective speakers from a whopping 100 applicants, we selected 12 presenters to talk about “Crossing Paths.” They included Shane Larson (watch "Pluto's Day of Reckoning"), the physicist and astronomer involved in the recent discovery of gravitational waves (see "A New Window to the Universe"), and noted relationship expert and psychology professor Eli Finkel ’97 (watch "Can Technology Bring Us True Love?").
The experience of organizing TEDx taught me more about myself than I could ever have imagined. When I think back to my freshman year, I know now that the direction I was going in was exactly what Gail had hoped for us. Obviously she wanted us to become better musicians, but more important, she wanted us to become better people, people with a purpose.
I recently started my career as a Chicago-based consultant at Accenture. And while I do not always use the principles of classical music to succeed at my job on a daily basis, I still appreciate my time with Gail and my experiences at Northwestern. I was challenged inside and outside of the classroom. I learned how to handle failure, what it means to truly listen and show empathy, how to hear harmony in a cacophony of voices and how to uncover the potential in others, just like Gail did for me.
Nikita Ramanujam ’15 is a management consultant analyst at Accenture in Chicago.