Then, Dean Kamen Walked In · 1 April 2012

© Jared C. Benedict. Released under the GFDL by photographer Jared C. Benedict

I do not give much thought to celebrity or status. After all, people are people. But it seems that our society gives more respect and credence to the popular people, the celebrities. Rock stars and other celebrities are treated differently than the rest of us. Personally, I have never thought being a rock star in any field should give a person more credibility or respect than anybody else. Then, Dean Kamen walked in.

While Dean Kamen may not be a household name for most, he is a celebrity. At least in certain circles. He is an inventor and entrepreneur known for many inventions including the Segway. He is also the founder of the organization, FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). So naturally, FIRST competitors think of him as a rock star. Which was why everybody at the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Seattle regional was excited when they heard rumors that he might address them at the opening ceremonies.

The FRC regionals are competitions like no other. Teams of high school students come together to compete, pitting robots against robots. It is a big deal. So much so, that we had public officials at the opening and closing session of the Seattle regional. People cheered heartily for the Washington superintendent of public instruction, Randy Dorn, who spoke at the opening ceremonies. He lauded the efforts of the students who were respectful and excited that such a high ranking official would greet them. But regardless of how highly esteemed the audience thought he was, there was an almost palpable disappointment when Mr. Dorn spoke. Because rumor had it that a celebrity was supposed to greet them.

While the rumors of a celebrity appearing at the opening ceremonies proved unfounded, there was quite a commotion in the pit area later in the day. I wondered why crowds of people were gathered causing a traffic jam of robots and students. I found out the masses were following the FIRST celebrity, Dean Kamen, around. He was giving autographs and handshakes. He was posing for pictures. The rock star of entrepreneurship, engineering, and invention really had shown up to greet Seattle.

Everybody had another pleasant surprise at the closing ceremonies of the first day of competition when Governor Christine Gregoire spoke. We were all grateful and excited that two high-ranking public officials spoke so well of the students and the competition. The students were truly respectful, attentive, and enthusiastic for their guests, but all that paled in comparison to when Dean Kamen walked in.

The crowd erupted when Mr. Kamen was announced at the close of the first day. He walked up to the microphone to clapping, screaming, cheering, and whistling. It was like being in an arena when the headline band is announced at a rock concert. I was amazed that this sort of greeting could be given to somebody other than an actual rock star or public official. When the audience finally calmed down, everybody listened with rapt attention to their celebrity.

Mr. Kamen was inspiring even though he did not say much different than most motivational speakers. He told the young people to follow their passions and pursue their dreams. He gave them encouragement. He told them they could be engineers and designers or whatever they chose to be. All his words rang true because he lives them. Because he is a success. Because he is not only the founder of, he is the inspiration of FIRST.

I do not get too excited when I see rock stars or celebrities. They are just people. And so is Dean Kamen. However, I look forward to the day when people who change the world for the better – doctors, designers, engineers, and educators to name a few – are greeted and treated like rock stars. Like the day Dean Kamen walked in.

© 2012 Michael T. Miyoshi

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Published 10 April 2012 in The Monroe Monitor & Valley News



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