What Happens When You Go To The Poles? – Denise Lee TEDx


It takes a lot of courage to stand in front of a crowd of people and speak from the heart, but that’s exactly what Arctic 2016 alum Denise Lee did at Eric Hamber Secondary School’s TEDxYouth event this past April. Hailing from Vancouver British Columbia this passionate polar advocate and recent highschool graduate was calm and collected as she recounted the sights, sounds and connections she made with the culture of the north. We checked in with Denise to hear about what the experience of giving a TEDx presentation was like.

What inspired you to give a TEDx talk at your school?

Many people underestimate the emotional impact Students On Ice expeditions can have on someone. I fell in love with the north. The Inuit weren’t just a people anymore, they welcomed me into their homes, they became my friends. I watched as an iceberg calved off from a glacier. I felt the thundering boom in my chest as it crashed into the waves. These were no longer just entities on paper anymore, but a place that was living, was breathing, and real. A TEDx talk gave me the chance to speak from a relatable, but also extremely personal viewpoint, a perspective I noticed was greatly lacking in the general dialogue surrounding the Arctic.

When I originally proposed the idea of centering this presentation on the Arctic, I overheard a comment that wasn’t meant for my ears, made by one of my peers.

“So it’s another climate change spiel. Great. I’ve already heard it.”

It broke my heart, but also reinforced the idea of the lack of breadth of public knowledge on the subject of the Arctic. Living in Vancouver, one of the most environmentally-conscious cities in the world, the idea of climate change was common sense. Recycle. Don’t idle, or else sea levels will rise.

As a result, I purposely avoided the environmental and scientific context of the Arctic. I wanted to frame the Arctic differently, wanted to make it clear just how complex and diverse it was. By changing the attitude we approached the subject with, I hoped to encourage a shift in how much we cared for it as well, just as I had been exposed during my experience in the Arctic.


Describe the process of getting your talk ready. How did you organize your thoughts, stories and images?

What’s unique about the TEDx format, is how intimate the setting is. The majority of the audience were fellow students and peers, people you’d often see in the hallways, people you’ve spoken to a hundred times before. As a result, I wanted to maintain that face-to-face conversation, wanted to make it clear that I was just another 17-year old girl, talking about something that was important to me.

As a result, in the process of preparing for this talk, I thought about what stories moved me the most; maybe it would move them as well. And I realized as I collected those moments, that a narrative began to emerge. Whether it was the story of a mentor’s history of indigenous relocation, or the trauma left due to residential schooling, it always boiled down to the relatability of human suffering. Regardless of who or where we were, this was something that we as people understand.


What advice would you give to an Alumni looking to share their expedition experience with the world?

It’s one aspect to share an experience, and another to have a purpose for it. What do you want to share? How can it benefit someone? Yes, I swam in Greenlandic waters (it is absolutely as cold as you think!) and saw 9 polar bears on the first day, but is there a greater theme you would like to share? Tailor that to your context and audience, and you’ve got a great start!

It’s wonderful to share your experience, it truly has the potential to expand or change an audience’s perspective. I encourage you eager traveler, best be on your way and may the winds be with you!


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This website was made possible by a generous contribution from the Leacross Foundation.