I just had a recent, two-hour-plus layover in wonderful, exotic Geeklandia.
Or, as it’s more commonly known, the regional science fair awards ceremony.
This was a completely foreign country to me — I’m pretty sure it didn’t exist when I was in school. OK, so it did, but the entry forms were always crumpled and discarded long before I got home, so I never had to do a project.
In smart-kid circles, this is a primo event, kinda like junior Nobel Prize Awards. It’s such a big deal that we even shelled out $8 for parking, an expenditure I didn’t take lightly. And as I peeled off money so rarely seen in my wallet, I told No. 1 that I was expecting big things from her — like at least a $10 prize.
You see, with science fair awards, they only tell you that you won something but they don’t actually tell you what or even what place. You’re kept in the dark and have to attend the awards ceremony (and pay $8 for parking) to find out your prize. My guess: The grown-up geeks are conducting their own long-term experiment on the effect of prolonged suspense on smart students. You can imagine the sheer torture this is for high-achieving kids. It also explains the big turnout.
It was pretty impressive to see that many kids and families crammed into the Tucson Convention Center on a Friday night. Such a display of academic smartitude — half dressed in sneakers and hoodies and the other half dressed in the traditional junior scientist ensemble of high heels and a tight mini skirt.
As the evening wore on — and No. 1’s name had yet to be called — she started feeling overly competitive with a girl she’d never met, we’ll call her Alberta Einstein, who kept getting called up every third award. Her last name, we noticed, was the same as the science fair head honcho. No, I’m not implying nepotism because projects are judged without any identifiers, but it does indicate a top-notch gene pool.
My child, on the other hand, was sitting with her mom, who did not realize those chirping sounds at crosswalks were alerts for the visually impaired and not birds living inside the traffic-light posts, and her dad, who was acting like he had high-level work emails to deal with but was, in reality, playing Words With Friends with his mom. And losing.
Another kid — his last name was Hawking, I think — was another repeat winner, scoring a Kindle Fire, a jet ski and enough cash to put his parents in a new tax bracket. On one of his return trips to the podium, I pointed out how his red bag, fat with prizes, was left unattended. No. 3 started stealthily creeping over that way, but Stephen Hawking III was apparently a track star, too, and made it back before anything could get snatched.
I’m kidding, of course. But what isn’t a joke is how incredibly smart and focused and creative these young people are, which is a very good thing. After all, they’re the ones who will have to solve the big dilemmas we’re faced with today like global warming and alternative fuel sources and how to make a stuffed crust pizza that doesn’t require an immediate angioplasty after one bite.
At the very least, maybe they can figure out a way to bail out our cash-starved city so it doesn’t have to charge so much for parking.
Contact Kristen Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4194. Epilogue: Cook’s daughter did indeed score a second-place award and a $75 prize at the science fair, a $54 profit after paying for parking and that fancy-dancy project display board.