This starts as a story of someone down on their luck. It's a story we've heard before: had nowhere to live, had no way to make money, had no hope. There was a lot of scraping by and not a lot of anything else.
I get a lot of flack because most of my stories start with "I was in a bar...," but I am a human being over the age of 21 living in Wisconsin, so that sort of just happens. I was in a bar on a warm night in summer when I was asked to become a Defender of the Robot Nation.
I interrupted a date to go to the first meeting - it was in a shiny new building with glass instead of outer walls. I only knew one person, but that was enough - I signed on and I agreed to host a tournament.
I remembered when I was young - I was a nerd, I spent all my time at extracurricular activities, all I wanted was to do well and fit in, but fitting in always seemed Too Much To Ask. Thankfully, I have since learned the superpower of Not Caring What Other People Think, but it can be a truly Sisyphean identity to maintain everyday.
I haven't told my fellow Defenders this but - having some purpose turned some things around for me. Was life perfect? No. Was life way better? Yes.
Who do I have to thank for turning me back into shape? A bunch of engineers and some high school students.
What is our mission? As Defenders of the Robot Nation, we continue to do everything in its power to spread the message of FIRST and create new heroes through science and technology.
If you've gotten this far, you may feel like this is a bit of a bait and switch - and let me explain, I didn't intend it to be. Yes, this accidentally became an email about how proud I am of some high school students (they won a regional! and an imagery award!) and how mentoring them has made me feel nice things. If you don’t know, FIRST is an acronym for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, but what it mean, in short, is that students at all levels through high school can build robots.
Is it just about robots? No! Most of what I end up talking about is FUNdraising (get it, it has the word fun in it), PR, media, community outreach, events, that sort of thing. I would be remiss if I did not include a quote from one of our lead mentors here: "We don't build robots, we build robot builders."
I was working with a student on preparing for interview at our next competition, and he dropped a bunch of wisdom, including that our team is family (sappy, I know, but true) and that we, as a team, have decided we don’t care what other people think. We go out in public in capes and matching shirts and we name our robots after our comic book favorites. That’s who we are and we’re darn proud. I’m glad this is something the students I work with are learning early.
We're going to championships soon (mandatory reference to being proud) and then we will be returning home to continue to defend the robot nation. My life is not perfect, but I am a mentor and a Defender, and for that I am thankful.
This email doesn't have a particularly satisfying ending because I am constantly waiting to see what we will do next!
Drop me a line,