At the end of each Olympic Games, it’s become something of a custom for the chairman of the International Olympic Committee to declare those games the “best Olympic Games ever.” And the chair says this almost independently of anything that actually happened at those games. Miraculous feats destined for legend could have been achieved at the previous edition of the Games while the current one could be best by disorganization and scandal, and the just-completed Games would still be called “the best ever.”
That quadrennial exercise in flattery popped into my head this week as posts declaring #heweb17 to be the best HighEdWeb ever appeared on Twitter. Not because I was anything less than wowed by this year’s edition of the most amazing conference in higher ed. But more because this was my eighth HighEdWeb and with age comes at least the benefit of historical context. There have been so many moments at each annual conference that you’re tempted to try to rank them.
Where would you put Felicia Day’s passionate talk today on a list that includes Steve Wozniak’s wonderful insights on technology, Adam Savage’s explosion-filled talk that went overtime because he didn’t want the Q&A to end, Levar Burton’s heart-filling message of hope and action or Chris Hardwick and the now-famous taco discussion? How would you rank the wide-armed embrace that Buffalo gave the association as we descended on their city? The rolling festival that is Austin? The magic of Portland, from Hardwick’s hilarity to Dave Cameron teaching us to be HUMAN? How do you measure the stunning power of an escalator that plays polka music? The sweaty fun of a kickball game at a AAA baseball stadium? Quality time spent with sharks swimming over your head in Cincy?
All those exercises in subjectivity, while making for good drinks-in-the-hotel-lobby debates, ultimately miss the point. Each successive HighEdWeb annual has definitively been better than the last for one simple reason: the people. It’s the people that make HighEdWeb go. It’s the people who share powerful knowledge and advice freely, either in presentations, workshops and posters, or over a beer when the day’s sessions are done. It’s the people who volunteer their time to organize so many moving parts into a cohesive experience. It’s the people who offer a shoulder or commiserate when someone needs to get something work-related off their chest. It’s the people who are willing to lay everything on the line at the karaoke microphone. It’s someone delivering a well-timed joke, or showing a colleague some new piece of code, or making a connection that leads to a productive work collaboration once the conference is over. It’s a group of people who take the time to respect another’s choice of pronouns.
One of the best parts of this is that the tribe of people is expanding. Roughly 50 percent of attendees in Hartford were first-timers this year. And first-time presenter Dayana Kibilds took home best of conference. That kind of news means this community’s strength is only growing with each successive annual conference.
The HighEdWeb community is the most unique and giving professional community I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a community that ask questions that give people who speak to audiences for a living moments of pause and excitement– questions that make these public speaking pros want to come back again. It’s a community that makes sure the magic of four days spent together continues throughout the rest of the year– often when we need it the most.
It’s those incredible people that give me the confidence to say, without qualification, that next year, we’ll be calling #heweb18 the Best HighEdWeb Ever.
Thank you, Colleen
One of those people who makes HighEdWeb so special is Colleen Brennan-Barry. And there was an emotional moment Tuesday knowing that her term as president is coming to an end. Colleen led HighEdWeb with grace, kindness and wisdom and under her leadership the association has flourished and grown ever more vital. From the partnership with WP Campus, to expanding membership to bringing more new faces into the organization Colleen’s impact will be long lasting. She’s also been a staunch advocate for Link, a valuable resource and a friend. HighEdWeb has gone to a new level under Colleen’s leadership and we’re all in her debt. Thank you.
Among the many strategic things Colleen did was develop a deep bench of leadership for the organization. With Sven Aas stepping in to succeed Colleen, we’re fortunate to have another great leader taking the reins. It will be exciting to see where HighEdWeb heads next.