Annenberg Media very kindly put me up in this lovely hotel which is attached to the largest convention center I have ever seen. Do you see the rounded roof in the bottom of my cityscape photos? That is the domed roof of the exhibition hall. Even from my 13th floor vantage I could only see half of the length of the building. I think I walked miles to get to the room where my panel was held.
This is the room in which my panel was held. When I walked in to this room I thought, "Man, this is going to be so sad when only 10 people show up to hear me talk." So, at about fifteen minutes before the scheduled start time the ten people I expected came in, and I was introduced, shook hands, and started to talk to them. The room was becoming really noisy. So I turned around, and the room was full. I mean Full, full. As in people standing in the back... as in 300 people full. As in, maybe I am in the wrong room and maybe these people came for someone else like Bill Nye the Science Guy. But no, they were here for A Private Universe, and for me. And then the presentation started.
Matt Schneps and Philip Sadler who originally masterminded the making of A Private Universe acted as moderators for the presentation. They started out by asking how many people had seen A Private Universe, a flood of hands went up. Then the guest speakers started talking about the effect APU has had on their work. Irwin Shapiro who was the director of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics when the film was made spoke, followed by Joe Novak, Bassam Shakhashiri, Joel Mintzes, and Jim Wandersee. Any time one of these amazing men mentioned my name, I would jump a little. It was a very surreal experience to see this time capsule of my thoughts being analyzed again and again.
Then Matt and Phil took the podium again. A 20 year old photo of myself flashed on the presentation screen. "Do you recognize this person?" People chuckled. Then they asked how many people had memorized the dialogue from APU. A second flood of hands rose. "Well, she is here with us today!" There was a collective gasp, followed by applause and cheering. And, as I rose to walk to the stage, what was the thought that was foremost in my mind? "Oh, I have to pee."
I stood at the podium and waited for the applause to stop. Everyone was smiling. There was a universal aura of familiarity and warmth coming from the people gathered in the room, and I relaxed. I have never stood before such a large audience, but I honestly felt like I was with a group of friends. "Hi" I said. "Hi" they said back. And I started to talk.
Originally I was supposed to stand and answer questions, but just before the presentation started I realized this wouldn't work. The questions would come higgledy piggledy and I would end up telling my story like an iPod set on shuffle. So I started at the beginning and gave a speech without notes or planning.
"I want to start by thanking my Mom. Without her none of this would have been possible; she signed my permission slip." And I went on from there talking about the process of doing the interviews, of my ignorance APU's fame, of being stopped on the street 4 years after filming by a man who recognized me from the film, of discovering physics and going to the University of Oregon. At the end of my story, I did answer questions. There were an amazing variety of questions, and I tried my best to answer them all. I talked for more than 30 minutes. And after the presentation I talked to people individually. Throughout my part in the presentation I felt more relaxed than I have at dinner parties. I even forgot about the bathroom.
Now that I am home, I am still processing all that happened at the presentation. All of these people felt such a very strong connection with my 14 year old self! It is astonishing to me that the words of a high school freshman trying to figure out astronomy on the fly could touch so many people. Who knew that being wrong could do so much good?