Every day I am reminded how much power passion has—for those who feel it—we are driven to do what we love; for those who have the pleasure of hearing others talk about their passion—we are struck by the depth of their love for something—whether contemporary art, medieval manuscripts, or organic chemistry. Last night I attended a “Senate of Scientists” dinner and lecture at the National Museum of Natural History. These events are not open to the public, and I am lucky to have attended so many of these events over the years because my husband is a scientist at the museum. I always enjoy myself. Oh yes, the lectures are wonderful, and I always learn something new—that’s one reason why I enjoy attending. What I realized last night (I’m not sure what took me so long) is that part of what makes the experience special is the people who attend. All have a passion that they pursue, and while their passion may be different from the passion of the guest speaker, all are engaged in the evening’s topic. When different passions fill a room, the questions that follow the presentation are always bold, owning to people’s differing perceptions and ways of viewing the world. Discourse has always been friendly, even when a challenge is put forth.
Last night’s experience stands out. While the speaker, a female scientist from Stanford, was inspiring, my evening was invigorating for another reason. Just as I was about to sit down with my plate of food, a young woman (16 years) came over to me with her grandmother (whom I recognized) and said, “My name is Sahara, like the desert; may we sit with you?” So, when young people attend these lectures, they stand out—there may be one or two other teens who attend with their parents, but essentially they are sitting with adults who are their parents’ or grandparents’ ages. I thought I had seen this girl before, but I wasn’t sure, so I started asking questions. Within less than 30 seconds, I learned that Sahara was passionate about chemistry. She couldn’t wait to share with anyone who would listen that she wanted to be a chemical engineer because she “has to”; she has no choice! Her passion was so strong that there just wasn’t anything else that she could possibly do in life. As I was talking with her, I realized that I had met her some years earlier; she was a girl then, and now she was a young woman who was going after her dream. She told me that she wanted to attend the lecture because the speaker is from Stanford and she will find out on December 16th if she has been accepted to Stanford—her number one choice. She said she was trying hard to not get her hopes up, but when I asked her about her GPA (4.2) and scores (SAT: 2200/2400; ACT 32/36), I just smiled. I thought it was good that she was a little worried, showing her humility and recognition that there are many smart people in the world.
Sahara like the desert (which is how she introduced herself to everyone she met) will do just fine in life, and I hope she will attend future lectures when she visits her mother and grandmother during school breaks from Stanford. Her passion will pull her through (along with her charm and delightful manner) any hard times she may encounter. Sahara like the desert made my evening memorable, and she warmed my heart. I suspect we all know remarkable young men and women who are following their passions; I just wanted you to meet Sahara. She is special and I suspect she will be an amazing chemical engineer.