Vision Expo East holds a special place in my heart when it comes to optometry trade shows. In 1997, it was the first trade show I attended at age 7, marking my first visit to the beautiful New York City. That weekend, my dad and I missed the last flight to San Francisco of the night because we couldn’t make it to the airport in time after seeing the Statue of Liberty.
In 2010, Vision Expo East helped me choose optometry as my profession. Optometry runs in my family, but like most pseudo-rebellious kids, I wanted nothing to do with the family business. During my sophomore year at UCLA, I was juggling several career options, ranging from medicine to journalism, when my dad invited me to Vision Expo East during my spring break in 2010. By then I had outgrown the anti-optometry sentiment but was still not convinced optometry would excite me enough to last an entire career. But the moment I stepped into the warmth of Jacob Javits Center from the New York cold, I was struck by the electric buzz and the raw energy radiating from the show floor. Polished businessmen strolled by, conversing rapidly in French. Impeccably dressed sales representatives enthusiastically showcased their new products. Eager opticians and optometrists traversed the exhibition halls exploring cutting-edge equipment or trendy eyewear.
This place was a jungle gym for anyone immersed in the world of eyecare. It finally hit 19-year-old me that optometry was so much more than “Which is better, 1 or 2?” Optometry was medicine, politics, business, fashion, art, technology, scientific research, advertising, and media. How could a world like that ever be boring?
And 2013 made me realize that Vision Expo East is, by far, my favorite trade show. This year, I was fortunate enough that Vision Council sponsored my trip to New York City for the conference. Instead of being the wide-eyed attendee from my previous experiences, this time, I was an exhibitioner at our OS booth, greeting passerbys in my crisp white OS shirt, bombarding people with information about out Twitter contest, and filming our official OS video (watch it here). When I did check out the rest of the show floor, I was once again mesmerized by the cutting-edge machinery like the OCT, auto-phoropter, the fundus autofluorescence, awed by the colorful and unique frames exhibited at the Galleria and the Eyewear floor, and blown away by the presentations in my Contact Lens CE courses.
But the most valuable part of Vision Expo East was the networking. While I had many scintillating conversations with pharmaceutical, frame, contact lens, and optical sales reps, it was the students that left the greatest impression, starting with the OS Core Leadership Team. Maybe it was the fact that our red-eye flights landed in Manhattan at the crack of dawn and we stood at the OS booth from 9am to 6pm, or that we had to muster all our strength to not fall asleep in a CE class that day. Maybe it was the large Italian dinner we scarfed down at Tony’s DiNapoli, or debating the pros and cons of asking for a photo with Dennis Rodman at our hotel bar. Maybe it was the three free vodka-cranberries I had at Bowlmor Lanes, or dancing the night away at the after-party at Latitude Lounge. At some point during the weekend, our group bonded and clicked despite never having met before. Our common goal to create a strong student voice for the profession builds our chemistry, and I have no doubt that OS has a bright future ahead.
In addition, the fellow optometry students I met at the OS booth were more than inspiring. The passion for optometry that students from SUNY, NECO, PCO, SCO, ICO, IAUPR, MCPHS, and many other schools expressed convinced me that the future of optometry is in wonderful hands. Vision Expo allowed me to reconnect with a few friends from my UCLA days and make new friends from other optometry schools that I would normally not have had a chance to meet. The crux of it all was the OS party at Bowlmor Lanes, where we all showed that optometry students really know how to party. We, as students, get so bogged down by exams and practicals that we often forget the world of optometry is creative, colorful, innovative, and inspirational.
Like I said, Vision Expo East is my favorite trade show!