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Surrey student delivers powerful TEDx talk on embracing discomfort

Aminullah Shiraz is a Grade 10 French immersion student at Panorama Ridge Secondary
Aminullah Shiraz spoke about getting out of the “teenage comfort zone” at TEDxSurrey at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (Photo: Anna Burns)

As a young child, Aminullah Shiraz dreamed of getting up on a stage and sharing his message with the world.

The only thing was he did not know what that message was yet.

He would spend hours listening to others share their messages and ideas on the TED stage.

In eighth grade, his teacher gave the class an assignment to write about three things he wanted to accomplish. Aminullah said he wanted to do a TED talk. It was then that his teacher told him about TEDxSurrey, which has hosted events annually since 2019.

TEDx events are TED-licensed and independently organized, with over 3,000 held annually worldwide.

“I was so intrigued by the concept,” Aminullah said. “I was so excited, but at that point, I felt like I didn’t really have anything to share, necessarily and I wanted it to be something that I was really passionate about, something that needed to be said.”

A year later, he felt he had a message to share: “how to leave your teenage comfort zone.”

The 16-year-old submitted the TEDxSurrey application at the last second.

Aminullah was shocked when he learned he had been shortlisted and called in for an audition.

“I’m not gonna lie, I was very, very anxious that day and I personally do not think that was the best audition,” he recalled. “There were a lot of ups and downs, and I genuinely thought I did a really, really bad job.”

The grade 10 Panorama Ridge student was surprised when he got the email saying he was chosen as one of the 12 speakers for TEDxSurrey in January.

“I jumped up and down with my mom,” Aminullah said. “I was just so excited.”

“I felt like everything that I had done was leading up to this moment and it was all worth it.”

“That was like the best part like nothing was in vain.”

READ MORE: Look who’s talking at TEDxSurrey: Bios of the 12 who’ll speak on Jan. 20

The idea for his message sprang from going on a run during the pandemic.

“I absolutely hated running, or like any form of exercise, like, it was the hardest thing for me,” he recalled

So when his sister, Bushra, asked him to join her and her husband, Aminullah was hesitant but decided to give it a try.

“I tried running and the moment my breath started getting heavy and my heart started to beat fast, like I stopped because I was like, Oh my God, I feel uncomfortable,” he recalled.

That’s when his sister said to him, “You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable, that is the point of exercise. That is how you progress.”

From that moment, the idea for his talk was born.

“From then on, I made it my mission to be as uncomfortable as possible, obviously, within reason and like while setting healthy boundaries,” he said. This included trying a food he previously did not like, having hard conversations or giving a TEDx talk.

Aminullah Shiraz spoke about getting out of the “teenage comfort zone” at TEDxSurrey at the Bell Performing Arts Centre in Surrey on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. (Photo: Anna Burns)

Hundreds attended the nearly sold-out TEDx event on Jan. 21, 2024 at Bell Performing Arts Centre, including Surrey mayor Brenda Locke and Coun. Pardeep Kooner.

Aminullah said TEDxSurrey 2024 was the best day of his life.

“I have never experienced so many people I love in the same audience,” he said. His family was cheering him on in the audience, and those overseas were watching the live stream.

Aminullah spoke about was like to grow up as the youngest of four, immigrating to Canada at seven years old from the United Kingdom, overcoming social anxiety and pushing himself out of his comfort zone.

Similar to the audition, he fumbled, but in the end, he said that that helped drive his point home.

The audience rose to their feet and burst into applause the moment he finished.

“Even though that was really, really frightening, like, I could have fainted, it was really fun,” he recalled. “Almost like exhilarating in a way because everyone afterwards thought that (fumble) was intentional.”

The team at TEDxSurrey later asked Aminullah if they could keep the fumble in the final recording of his talk.

“I said yes,” he said. “Because, again, it really does hone my point, like, and convey the message better.”

“I would not have thought my talk was perfect without that imperfection,” he added.

READ MORE: Hundreds Attend TEDxSurrey event Jan. 20 at Bell theatre

He got back up on the stage in early February at the Bell Performing Arts Centre for the Surrey Schools Youth Empowered forum. He spoke to 600 of his peers about being bullied and how it feels when people say something bad about you.

This experience was vastly different from TEDx, as most of the audience was teenagers. “I was kind of freaked out because we tend to be very judgey.” There were times when he had expected the audience to laugh, but they did not respond in the way he was expecting them to.

In the end, “the people who needed to hear it, heard it,” he said.

“There were people that came up to me afterwards, and they were like, I’ve also experienced bullying and teasing, and it’s something that I still deal with, and we connected,” he said. “There were a lot of people who just like, felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable with me and that really warmed my heart.”

Anna Burns

About the Author: Anna Burns

I started with Black Press Media in the fall of 2022 as a multimedia journalist after finishing my practicum at the Surrey Now-Leader.
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