Sarah Razor, Executive Director, National Association of State Chief Administrators
One of my colleagues has a mantra before every major event: Expect the unexpected. This was certainly true at NASCA’s annual conference in October, with a twist. You should expect the expected, but in an unexpected way. The conference theme this year was the, “the Velocity of Change” and true to theme, on October 13 (a Friday, of course) things at this event changed at a breakneck pace.
Dan, one of NASCA’s executive committee members, arrived as an enthusiastic soon-to-be-dad. Prior to our event, he mentioned this was his last out of state travel for the year as the due date for his firstborn was about a month away. Throughout the week, his excitement was evident. For instance, during an ice breaker, members were warming up with a reciprocity circle activity. With butcher paper taped along the main wall, attendees wrote both personal and professional ‘asks’ on sticky notes, and then respond below when they could offer help. Questions like, “Does anyone have a template or research on X issue?” and “Where is the best place for a long run near our hotel?” peppered the room. I smiled when I saw scrawled on a pink sticky note, “Any advice for a soon to be father? – Dan.” Several of the attendees wrote messages of congrats and “Come see me.”
Then came Friday the 13th. Attendees were winding down during the last break of the event. Suddenly, Dan exploded through the doors of general session room. “We are having a baby! I’m going to the airport!” And with that he grabbed his bag and left. The room, which had been filled with the warm chatter of networking and background music from Pandora’s “Family Road-trip” station, became still and oddly quiet for a brief pause, except for the chorus from Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl.
Everyone was going through same the mental gymnastics with this surprise announcement. Was the baby ok? Dan had to get the airport in Atlanta traffic, and then had at least a two-hour flight in front of him. Would he arrive home in time? During the week, we had seen him occasionally duck out to check in at home and he mentioned in passing the doctor set a delivery date due, but it wasn’t for another two weeks. Attendees began to murmur.
A few minutes later, I stepped into the hallway to see if our travel agent could pull some strings, and my phone rang. From the cab, Dan called back with the rundown. His wife had gone in for an unexpected checkup that morning and her doctor decided to deliver the baby right away. He was booked on the next flight out, and would be home in about four hours. He concluded, “They just took her back for surgery. I don’t know what’s happening.” The weight of worry was heavy in his words. We hung up, I said a quick prayer and went back to the conference.
Sometimes during a conference, it is easy to get wrapped up in the speaker slides that won’t load, the missing name badge, the incorrect hotel reservation. And then the truly unexpected happens, and we are reminded of the much bigger picture.
Fortunately, just a few minutes later, a joyous stream of texts came through. “I’M A DAD! She’s here and she’s healthy. Tiffany is great. I’m checking in through security right now and I’ll be on the next flight out.” Word spread table to table in the general session, and the atmosphere lifted among our membership.
Dan called a bit later, and the worry had vanished. He was absolutely elated – you could hear him smile through the phone as he chattered through the details of his new arrival. “She’s here! She’s beautiful and healthy and I got to facetime with my wife. The team from Florida is at the airport so they celebrated with me. I was so glad to see a few familiar faces when I found out. I board in just a minute.”
Although the education, research and professional networking facilitation that NASCA provides are obviously mission-critical, these services would be hollow without the real relationships behind them. In less than an hour, Dan went through the scariest, then the best moment of his life. And his NASCA friends and colleagues supported him through it all. I’ve have the privilege of serving as NASCA’s executive director for exactly one year this week. One of my first observations about our association is that our members make fast friends. And sure enough, Dan’s friends were there for him beyond a professional capacity during one of the most personal times in life.
Here’s the best part… After Miss Rylee’s surprise appearance, our members showered Dan’s sweet baby girl with college onesies (go Cats!), baby hockey jerseys, a stuffed bison from Kansas (errr… plush, not stuffed) and other baby swag from across the nation.
Here is the chain of emails that circulated among our Executive Committee, so you can understand his experience from his perspective. Grab a tissue. There seems to be some unexpected dust in the room.