Vomit and Speaking Engagements

By Alan Murray, Uncharted Staff

On a flight home from Ohio I found myself sitting in an aisle seat next to a couple in the middle of an argument. That would be my luck. In an instant, my dreams of a pleasant uneventful and sleepy flight went down the drain.

It soon became apparent that the woman was determined never to speak with her husband again. He, however, was not willing to give up so easily. I munched on some peanuts, trying to ignore the squabble. Stuck on a plane, next to a fighting couple, eating peanuts. It could be worse.

Suddenly, the husband snatched the vomit bag out of his seat pouch.I braced for the worst. Visions of a waterfall of nauseating liquid escaping his mouth, missing the bag, and falling onto my lap went through my mind.

But instead of spilling his guts, he took a pen and began drawing a pair of eyes and a nose on the bottom of the bag. Placing his hand inside, he turned to his wife and in a squeaky voice said, “Hello! I’m the Vomit Puppet!”

If she didn’t want to talk with him, that was fine, but surely she couldn’t resist an intellectual conversation with the Vomit Puppet. This continued for most of the flight, his poor wife, doing everything she could to hide any hint of a smile all the way home.

So now, whenever I go on a trip, especially when I’m nervous and preoccupied, such as my recent travels to speak at Columbia University, I think, “It could be worse. You could be seated next to a man speaking to his wife through a vomit puppet.”

Fortunately, there were no puppeteers or squabbling couples on this flight to distract me from preparing my presentation, and by the time I showed up on campus the next morning I was rested and ready to go.

The invitation to speak at the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) national convention is truly an honor. I spent most of my high school years attending or even competing to attend similar events. I always came back inspired and excited to try out the ideas that were presented and discussed. I am indebted to the many educators and professionals who donated their time, talent and money to help me build a strong foundation that would set the tone of my life and career for many years to come.

The directors and board of CSPA are educators and professionals who are fiercely dedicated to their students and make great sacrifices each year to pull off both Fall and Spring conventions. Twice a year, they come together with an army of guest speakers to inspire and instruct students from around the world. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

So, when I found myself presenting in the Joseph Pulitzer World Room, the very room where the Pulitzer Prizes are announced each year, I hoped that my presentation would rise to the occasion.

Serving as Executive Director of Uncharted has given me firsthand experience in taking ideas, often seemingly ridiculous and outrageous ones at that, and making them happen, usually with limited resources and staff. So I wanted to show students, perhaps from schools with small budgets, how to be successful on the web notwithstanding.

This expertise is likely something I would never have achieved had it not been for the devotion of others sacrificing their time to present at conferences during my high school and college years. I’m grateful for the opportunity to give back to students now what others did for me.

And it looks like I’ll be back again. CSPA has invited me to speak at their Spring convention. My thanks goes out to all those, who over the years took time to help me get going in my career. My commitment is to do the same for others.

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