Late in morning as I was walking through the graceful, long and rather quiet hallways of McCormick Place, mixed thoughts were passing through sleep-starved brain of mine. It was much more pleasant here then the hot Chicago rush hour cab rides but fear of being late and even worse reaching the wrong conference hall was rather unnerving. Fear sure was replaced by calm as I entered the dimly lit room with small group of unfamiliar yet congenial youth I could associate myself with, and after some casual short talks, it all began to get familiar. Soon, after friendly and authoritative introduction, Danne Ventura, Director, Professional Relations, Essilor began the orientation for participants for the 2012 Varilux Optometry Student Bowl. As representatives from different optometry schools throughout the country began introducing themselves it was pleasant to understand how similar we were in our struggles ranging from uncertainties of metropolitan traffic to stress for the big night, to mixed emotion of institutional pride and self-disclosure. Slowly the details of the event began to unfold as we went through schedule for the night. It was fascinating to know how much hard work it takes and how finely orchestrated the event. Besides providing realistic expectations of the event, affable organizers including host Dr. David Seibel made every effort to bring repose and rejoice amongst the participants. In an informal ceremony, as Vice President of Volk gifted personalized 2.2 Panretinal to all participants, it felt exhilarated and rewarded and it continued to as we were given nice souvenir t-shirts and memorabilia.
The end of the orientation meeting marked the official beginning of the count down to 21st Varilux Student Bowl. Scatterbrained through the sessions for rest of that day, I finally joined my SUNY compatriots and colleagues in Skyline Suite in Hyatt to prepare for the night. With bath tub full of drinks, great music in background, everyone wearing flashy attire and making posters it was all becoming reality. It sure was one great party with me as the only designated driver, the problem was that if I performed horribly, I would be the biggest buzzkill of the decade. Every time we were visited by faculty or senior alumni for good wishes, I had a great feeling of being part of big family, but still it added to the responsibility.
As clock struck half past six, I decided to leave the party to line up with rest of the participants at Skyline Ballroom. I walked through pompous crowds from different schools like a fan of visiting team would through the hosting team’s tailgate party. To my surprise I was relieved to find Megan Lee participant from University Berkeley and together we were able to push through the crowds. As we approached the backstage we found several of the other participants already there with their delegates and before I knew it we were joined by friends from our respective schools. It definitly felt great to have friends like Matt Geller, my classmate and founder of OptometryStudents.com there to not only represent spirit of SUNY but to cheer for all the participants and to film the video that I have linked in this post. By now, it began to feel like a real big party but the pressure was still on!
Under the bright lights surrounded by loud cheering crowds, we all lined up to run to stage. At this point I felt in much better control, thanks to the orientation, and thanks to my colleagues from SUNY accompanying me to the stage. Things definitely felt different when the actual student bowl started, as the questions were passing by, buzzers were sounding all over and at that time I realized how talented and smart the other contestants were. Luckily I got enough points down to qualify for the second round!
When I returned for the second round, I realized how disoriented I was during the first round when host Dr. Seibel pointed to big 50 inch flat panel TV right in front of me! Questions passed by and I was filled with adrenaline. We all buzzed through the race testing not only how much we have learned but also how fast, sure and accurate we were. Of course, we had moments where we really relied on the experience of the judges in order to provide objective reason to what appeared to be subjective clinical facts in Optometry. I sure felt proud to be on the stage with these judges who are also leaders in our profession including Dr. Linda Casser from PCO and our own Dr. Adamczyk from SUNY.
Going into the last round I had almost double the points of my competitors but lost these points throughout the round because I was a little “trigger happy” with the buzzer. Towards the end of the round I began to realize how many wrong answers I had bagged, and Dr. David Heath, President SUNY stated 2 nights laters in Chicago “I could have strategically chosen not to answer every question to avoid getting negative points for the wrong answer, but when you think you know the answer, it is tempting to find out if you are correct or not!”
As I walked off the stage, my disappointment was ousted by delight when I found a group of students from SUNY and other schools who gathered right next to stage cheering. I did not do that bad in their eyes and at that point this was all that mattered. Of course, the best of us, Karen Lee from Indiana University won 1st place and the coveted crystal trophy and Ohio state University won the Spirit award for this year. It marked the end of one of the most memorable moments in our lives and we all joined the common party to celebrate another year of successful student bowl.
During the several days to come, many of participants including myself were approached by perfect strangers from other schools, congratulating how much they enjoyed our performance during the student bowl. This made me realize in spite of our numbers, we have such a small optometry community, with common ethos of hard work, and devotion to field of optometry. It goes without saying that all the credit goes to great team of organizers including Dr. Rod Tahran, VP professional relations and clinical affairs for Essilor for organizing the 21st Varilux Student bowl. For me and rest of the participants it sure was night we will never forget in rest of our lives.