I have decided to take the morning off. After spending a full 12 hours at talks and workshops yesterday my mushy brain needs time to recuperate and reflect. And as I sat in the hotel dining room to breakfast, thanks again to the society for the excellent accommodations, paging through The Times, reading about shoreline buyouts in New York, Super Bowl commercials, and the inevitable Ray Lewis piece, my mind did what it does so well, it pondered. I love gathering new and relevant information and adding it to what I know and continually tweak and reformulate my worldview in science and beyond.
After a full day of experiencing this phenomena in science, getting excited as I saw the theoretical underpinnings of my own research project in presentations by the likes of J. P. Loria at the Protein Conformation session, being brought nearly to tears watching the beauty of life in action potentials from Adam Cohen’s lab at the New and Notable session, as well as engaging in the discussion in the Communicating Science workshop, my brain needs to exhale. Once I recovered from the whoopee-cushion-like brain-exhale after finally reaching my room last night I decided to take a breath of fresh air. What better time than after my new hometown team, the Ravens, won the Super Bowl.
The truth is, I don’t really care for or about football much, but I can’t help but notice and think about large events that shape peoples’ lives. The Ray Lewis article reminded me of my own past and current history, fraught with troubles yet able to rise above and succeed. It reminds me of the American Dream, where coming from a family of European immigrants who settled in the upper midwest to find opportunity the motto of “work hard and you can succeed” pervades nearly everything that I do. And here I am, going to a big-name conference in a big-name city, just another bozo on the bus, great-grandpa Viggo didn’t have a clue.
My grandfather’s father, Viggo Rasmussen, came from Denmark after realizing that he would never rise above peasant status as town forester, a job he was “granted” after his father was shot doing the same job. He wound his way across the Atlantic, through Ellis Island, all the way to Withee, Wisconsin, where he worked for a lumber baron long enough to sustain the jump to dairy farming. The family dairy farm is in its third, and probably last, generation of Rasmussen’s, a legacy that is quickly disappearing from the landscape of America’s Dairyland. But that’s not the dream I am necessarily thinking of. No, its the ability of individuals from one generation to the next to become inspired and have the ability to pursue what drives them.
That dream is why I am here and there are so many factors that go into my being here that I could write a book about it but I’ll spare you the memoir and hit the high points most relevant to the discussion at hand. It took mentorship and prodding from people, namely high school teachers and college professors, to realize a potential I didn’t know I had. Scholarships, grants, and student loans to provide funds that I would never be able to come up with. But a very subtle and large influence were the stories of those who came from similar backgrounds and went through the process showing me that it was possible to follow my, seemingly inaccessible, dreams.
Its this last point that brings me back to Ray Lewis. Baltimore is a huge football city. I’ve never seen so much purple in one place before even as a neighbor to the Vikings. What is more, I’ve gained a bit of insight into just how pervasive this influence is. My girlfriend is an english teacher at a high school for kids with emotional disturbances. Her day to day stories give me a slight taste of the effects that things like drugs, violence, crime, and socioeconomic and racial disparity can have on society but also how to reach people I have no direct connection to. When they had their Super Bowl party last Friday all the kids were making posters with number 52, Ray Lewis’ number, on them. Now you could argue that Ray Lewis may or may not be a good role model, focusing on his murder charge, or how many children with how many women he has had, but you can’t argue that he is a role model to so many. He has come from the same place and risen above, the same underlying reason that I latched onto the particular role models I did and still do.
How does this relate to science? Well, there is some connection of synapses in my head that relates all these things, perhaps a consequence of excluded volume. I find inspiration in the Ravens and Ray Lewis that I can show others that they can chase a dream that doesn’t seem to be there and do something that inspires them and gives them the fire of life like science gives to me. As the cup flows from those that inspire me here in Philadelphia I hope that I can do the same in the future, not just for scientists but for all types of people. It is my experience that the actions of one can create a cascade of inspiration, no matter how large or small, to chase the dream.