I can’t think of a better time to write this post than on the eve of a new year. Many people look towards the future year as a means of renewal, self reflection, and motivation. For the FIRST community, it means that we are staring down the barrel of a new season. All the glitz and glamour of kickoff, followed by six excruciatingly difficult weeks of planning, designing, and building are thrown together, and at the end, what do we do? We celebrate like no other group in the world can. This is FIRST, this is what we do.
I am proud to say that I am an alumni of this great program. I started out in 1995 as a member of team 126, Gael Force, and I was given direction by some of the most caring, wonderful people I have ever known. Back then, there were no alumni mentors, just teachers, engineers, and other types of workers from the community of sponsors that made up what was then called U.S. FIRST. Believe me when I say, you would not recognize FIRST back then. Teams were shrouded in secrecy, competition was at its highest, and Woodie Flowers talked about Gracious Professionalism in a way that seemed to be more about damage control than one of the movement that we have embraced today. Then came Chief Delphi, a team that developed a website that was a virtual meeting place for mentors and students to all get together and share ideas and stories. The impact of this discussion board would not only carry on through the years as the central meeting point for mentors, students, and alumni, but it also reshaped FIRST as we know it.
Fast forward to 2015. There are web based shows, YouTube videos, pictures, competition viewing sites, you name it, it is probably out there. Above all of those things, there is one aspect in particular that is so important to the life blood of FIRST, that without it, the competition may cease to exist. That aspect is alumni involvement. We now live in a time where some of the mentors of years past have been doing this competition for over 20 years! Think about that for a second…over 20 years of putting yourself through the ringer for a total than more than 1/3rd of a year! What is most astonishing about that fact is that those people keep coming back for more. Sure, they are growing more tired and weary by the day, but they stay because they have seen the results. Those dedicated soldiers can only hold that torch for so long though, and year by year, you see it happening before your very eyes…that torch is being passed.
WHY I AM TAKING PART IN ROBOT IN 3 DAYS
Now that we have shared a little bit about history and alumni involvement, let us discuss something that is more important than the robots you build, or the games you play on that field. That aspect of FIRST has to do with the relationships you build. A few years back I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural South Florida Regional. I was a little bit weary of stepping on the toes of a very established and strong community of people that Florida carries. Instead, what I found was a welcoming with open arms. The people in the Florida FIRST community are not much different than those of New England, which I cherish so much. One of the more important things to note is that they not only utilized, but embraced the culture of alumni involvement in mentoring and volunteering. For each day I was there, I grew to know more about each of these people, and walked away from the event with some amazing new friends, and a region which to this day I still call “my other New England”.
We all go through changes in life. This fall, I made the trek down to Florida as part of a journey of self-discovery after some major changes in my own life. When I got down there, who was waiting for me with open arms? Those very same people I met years before at the South Florida Regional. They took me in, made me feel at home, and brought smiles to my face on a consistent basis. These people, are the very people that you have seen featured over the past few years on a little thing called Robot in 3 Days. This is a group of people who have an incredible passion, not so much for the game, but for the program. Spend some time talking with them and you don’t hear them talking about wins and losses, you hear them talking about making an impact in the FIRST community. They embody everything that FIRST is truly about. While I was out with them one night, they invited me to join them this year to be a part of the Ri3D experience. Knowing how crazy week one is, and having a team of my own to mentor I told them that I would think about it, and went about my way a day later.
Somewhere along the way home, I started thinking. What do so many of my companions have in common? We are all brought together by a common bond. We are generations of alumni, and we are an army that is growing. We have been passed the torch, but our aspirations are larger. We don’t just want FIRST to survive and grow, we want it to be interactive and infectious. I look around at many friends that I see over the course of the year and realize that they come from all walks of life, and various parts of the country. Some are my age, some I remember seeing through the glass as an emcee when they were driving a robot as a student. We are now all, in essence, one. Ri3D is important because it inspires, entertains, sparks conversation and further innovation. I can’t count the number of times on my own team 131, CHAOS, that someone came in and said “Did you see what they were doing on that Robot in 3 Days thing?” The amazing thing about RI3D? It is alumni driven. These are the people who have been shaped by the program, and now they stand tall and share everything they can with the world in hopes of doing the same on a larger scale. It is when I realized this, that I knew I had to be a part of it. As an alumni, it is my duty to stand strong with my fellow alumni and shape our community the right way, so that the students we reach can gain the same special experience that we did. A couple of months later, I booked my plane tickets, and now I am ready to reach out to the world with my friends who want to change culture.
If you are a student reading this, look closely at what you see. This growing movement that is called Ri3D is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what future generations can accomplish, and that is more than just within FIRST. Look around you next time you are at a competition. Some of those students walking by you may end up being some of your greatest friends in the future, and you don’t even know them yet. FIRST is a powerful experience and it can shape your life if you let it. Take the lesson from Ri3D. We have been where you are, and we are raising the bar. The challenge is now out there for you to do the same once you get through high school and beyond college.
If you are an alumni reading this, keep raising that bar. Keep making the shows, websites, or funny memes. Keep the excitement up for every student to soak in. At the very least, you are providing a positive impact even if they don’t return to mentor. Keep in mind, though, one day we will have to pass that torch too. When we do, we want our students to be more driven, and make FIRST even stronger than we ever imagined it could be. Most important, keep up those relationships. Treat each other like family, because that is what we are. We as an alumni are family. We offer up our homes to let someone sleep when they need a place to stay. We pick each other up when we need it most. We share stories and ideas, strengthening bonds between teams, students included. Show the FIRST community that the robot is just that…a piece of moving machinery that brings us all together.
If you are one of those non-alumni mentors who inspired or are still inspiring alumni…thank you. We all love you for it.
Get some sleep, the ride is about to begin.