“Ever since I was young I knew you could never solve hate with hate”
At just 19 years of age, Nayem Alam is on a trajectory that most millennials can only watch from afar. From being recognized for his leadership by winning the Governor’s General Award, to motivating his peers on a powerful TED speech, and by having impact on the community by starting a Slam Poetry that’s making its ways into various high schools call Speak up Montreal. Pay attention to this millennial, and follow his trajectory because this young leader is taking off.
514: Where are you from?
NA: I’m from Montreal and I was raised in Little Burgundy.
514: Where do your parents originate from?
NA: My parents are from Bangladesh.
514: What do your parents do?
NA: My dad is a pizza delivery man, and my mother is a stay at home wife.
514: Let’s talk about your education, what schools did you attend starting with high school?
514: You seem pretty focused for someone who’s only 19 years old. What are you studying at McGill University?
NA: Currently I’m studying Electrical Engineering.
514: Can you simplify what Electrical Engineering is for people who don’t understand what that is?
NA: You have to deal with a lot of programming, a lot of digital stuff like power. Most of the things that I’m in are circuits. Circuits are things that you model based upon everyday life, based upon power and resistors, these are certain elements we use in everyday life such as switches. It’s pretty much science and engineering together.
514: So pretty much you make things move and go on & off?
NA: A lot of Engineers are business managers. They’re known to be top business leaders, Electrical Engineers what they do is take that problem and aces that problem.
514: What about people who are trying to create solar energy, would an Electrical Engineer have a part in that as well?
NA: People who are doing solar energy are not really electrical engineers. But an electrical engineer would have a hard core component as well. They would also need chemical engineers as well. And chemical and electrical engineers are the hardest engineer courses, where chemical is on the chemical molecule side and electrical is on the mathematical component side.
514: In High School you were given the Governors General Award. What is that?
NA: It’s actually a very prestigious award for Academic Excellence, but you also get it for being a leader and having an impact in the community.
514: Does only one person receive that award at Graduation?
NA: They only choose one person in the school.
514: How did you have impact in the community?
NA: I opened up a competition in high school called Speak up Montreal, to let kids my age express themselves without any judgments. I did this because when I was young I never had this outlet when I was bullied.
514: When you say you were bullied do you mean physically or verbally?
NA: Both. I’ll give you a story– I was at a park and swinging, and there was this one bully that came and pushed me while I was on the swing and I fell on my back and I couldn’t breathe, and then he kicked sand in my face and I was just out. And I went home and I didn’t tell anybody about it.
514: What was the main reason that you were getting bullied?
NA: I was bullied because I was fat, and I got bullied for my height. All these things put a lot of pressure on me and I kept silent and didn’t speak to anyone. I was going through depression, because on a daily basis I was getting bullied.
514: When you were getting bullied physically did you ever fight back?
NA: I had all the will to fight back, but I didn’t think it was the right thing to do. Ever since I was young I knew you could never solve hate with hate. And sometimes, you never solve hate with love either, but from that I wanted to use my voice because your voice is God -given and it is more powerful than you think it is, and words are stronger than weapons. I usually don’t talk about my past, but lately I’ve been bringing up my past to let people know that I’ve been bullied, and I’ve accepted it, and I’ve moved on. I also understand bullies as well, because maybe they’re going through hard times as well.
514: How did you get into public speaking and fall in love with doing it?
NA: I went and did a competition in my first year of high school, which is an annual competition that every Montreal English School Board has. I got fourth place my first year, third place my second year, second place my third year, and finally first place my fourth year.
514: How do you get chosen to be in the competition? And do they give you specific topics to talk about or is it your choice to choose what to speak on?
NA: Well, first you have to present in class, and if you are chosen then you get to perform in front of the whole school. Then if you win you get choosen to go to the Regionals against every other school.
514: How was the atmosphere at the Regionals?
NA: The Regionals are huge, and there are way more judges.
514: So how did you perform at the Regionals?
NA: It was a lot more competitive because now you are performing against all the first place winners, and of course its a competition. I look at it like how good can you be, and how strong is your message to motivate and inspire. So I was choosing to go on stage, and usually public competitions are given behind the podium, so I went on stage and took the mic and asked them if I was able to walk around the stage while giving my speech.
514: What made you make that bold move?
NA: I wanted to have impact. The thing is when you watch public speakers behind the podium personally they are always looking down and it’s so boring and you could fall asleep. So I just needed to do something to get the audience engaged. I took the mic off the stage and I started walking and talking. Apparently, I was the first person to ever do that at the Regionals, and after that everybody started doing it also. I was shocked because everybody was copying me.
514: How did the judges react after you started that trend?
NA: The judges didn’t like it, because it was supposed to be behind the podium, and because of me they put in the rule book that you are not allowed to walk and talk at the same time.
514: When did you start Speak up Montreal?
NA: I worked through it in the summer. I went to different meetings in the school year, and I had a teacher that was my mentor and she would help me through all of this, and she emailed someone from the Montreal English School Board that was interested in it. They would help me get this together, and contact different high schools, I wrote a rule book,and I also have a rubric. I contacted CTV and Global Montreal to come and broadcast it.
514: How many participants are involved in Speak up Montreal?
NA: There’s 40 participants every year that participate from all around the Montreal English School Board. What’s unique about my competition is that you’re allowed to do anything, even swearing from Sec 3 to Sec 5. You’re allowed to do anything. You can do it in groups. You can rap. I give you total freedom. And what’s also unique about the competition is that there are four prize winners. The reason why I do that is because when I was in Sec 1, I won fourth place but I didn’t receive anything, not even an acknowledgement.
514: Whats your ultimate goal in life?
NA: To leave a mark on society.
514: Now that you are in University and more busy, how are you still involved with Speak up Montreal?
NA: I’m always involved with the meetings, and the Emails. I have a student working from high school. It’s like their personal project, so I mentor them.
514: How do you pick the judges?
NA: We Email a slam poetry artist in Montreal. We pick an English Professor, and a French Professor all from different schools.
514: What do you look for when you are judging the participants?
NA: We judge them by how they talk, how you walk around, how you remember your speech, how much time you take.
514: After starting Speak up Montreal you also started Speak up Vanier?
NA: After High School, I was super stressed by the transition from High School to College. After a year passed, I got to know a good base and I got to understand the school structure and the people, and after a year, I didn’t want to be a part of something, I wanted to make something. But the difference between Speak up Montreal and Speak up Vanier, is that it’s actually open to every single person who’s in CEGEP or an adult in Montreal.
514: How do you get chosen to be a Top 20 under 20?
NA: I received an Email from Student Awards, and they asked me if I would be interested to apply for top 20 under 20 in Canada. “I was telling myself that I could never win this”. So one day I was reading a book call The Tin Flute, and the author of that book won the Governors General Award. So I said let me just give it a shot, and I applied. I had to explain to them the process it took for me to create Speak up Montreal, I explained to them that I overcame bullying by working hard on myself, and I lost 30 lbs. I spoke about how I had a YouTube account and had over 500,000 views.
514: How many people apply for Top 20 under 20?
NA: I’m not sure, but I think it’s over 1000 people across Canada.
514: How did you get involved with the Ted Talk?
514: What was your Ted Talk Speech about?
NA: Half poetry and half motivational. I spoke about my bullying, and how at one point I wanted to commit suicide. I explained how I came out of that situation, and how it’s OK to fail and lose sometimes. It’s OK to make mistakes, but the way you react to your mistakes is the way you’re going to make a difference.
514: Who are some of your role models right now?
NA: My dad. Because I see him coming from a Third World country and he had to establish his family here. Also my dad has 15 brothers and sisters, and he’s the second oldest, so he has to take care of his siblings and send them money. He also built a home so that he can have his mom live in it. So he’s been the breadwinner for his family. Also in terms of speaking, Martin Luther King Jr is my role model.
514: What are some tips that you can give to others about public speaking?
NA: You need to accept that it’s super scary on stage. Make sure your speech is memorized, because that has more impact on the audience. Also make sure you speak loud, and believe in yourself.
514: What’s your definition of success?
NA: My definition of success is to accomplish all my goals and leave a mark on society.
514: Who’s your celebrity crush?
NA: Nina Dobrev from Vampire Diaries.
514: First App you open in the morning?
514: What’s your favourite chill- out spot in Montreal?
NA: Downtown. McGill area.
514: Who do you listen to in music?
514: One of the articles we’re writing this month is how can we end racism in 2016?
NA: Honestly I think it’s possible to end racism, but the way society has been going it’s kind of impossible to end racism. Because every human being has a different perspective, and in life there has to be a duality which is the good and the bad.
Facebook: Nayem Alam
Photo Credit: @gcastrophotographe
Written By: Vlad Pierre
Edited By: Yvonne Sam