Sarah Jane: I Want to Go There

Sarah Jane Bever-Chritton

I recently came across this essay I wrote about Sarah Jane. She was applying to attend Missouri Scholars Academy, a program that brings outstanding high school students together from each town in the state.

Sarah Jane’s annual question started the summer before 5th grade: “Next year, will my teacher teach me about the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics?” She had surpassed her father’s limited ability to explain the non-­observable universe and wasn’t satisfied. That is typical Sarah Jane; always striving to learn more and learn faster. It’s simply not in her nature to abide an unanswered question or an unsolved puzzle. In middle school she began to quench her own thirst for theoretical physics by tackling books like Lisa Randall’s Warped Passages: Unraveling the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. Now she attempts to explain the concepts she’s discovered to her mystified parents.

Sarah Jane fills her life with learning, activity, and socialization, yet she has never left a project or assignment for a last-minute cram session. She manages her own schedule of schoolwork, piano lessons, play practice, orchestra rehearsals, social activities, scholar bowl, and family chores. It’s important to her to keep her responsibilities under control so that she has plenty of worry-free time for leisure reading and interaction with her network of friends. She relentlessly works ahead, using downtime during one activity to get ahead on another. Her AP European History review book was half read before the school year even began, traveling with her on car trips and to the swimming pool.

Sarah Jane has always been emotionally mature and sophisticated. For example, during eighth grade, she became passionately involved in competitive forensics and spent weeks practicing a comedic interpretation. At her first competition, she received a 4th place medal. She studiously reviewed the judges’ critiques, working to improve the areas that were cited as weaknesses. At the following competition, she won 1st place. While she was pleased to win the top prize, the following day she expressed an edge of disappointment. “Dad, she said, “When I came in 4th, the judges gave me advice on what I needed to improve, but this time they only wrote things like ‘well done’ and ‘good job.’ I know my routine still isn’t perfect, but how can I improve it without advice? I’d rather come in 4th with critiques than be first and not have useful feedback.”

Discovering relationships between different learning experiences has always been a thrill for Sarah Jane. Her incisive questions often surprised adults. For example, her elementary school brought in a guitar player who performed ragtime songs originally written for the piano. During the question and answer session, the musician was stunned when 9-year-old Sarah Jane asked, “Is converting songs to a different instrument kind of like transposing a song to a different key on the piano?” Later, in a 9th grade government class, the instructor was providing basic background on major forms of government and economic systems when Sarah Jane had an epiphany. She raised her hand: “Was the rise of communism a backlash against unchecked Dickensian-style capitalism?”

It’s been a wonder to watch Sarah Jane grow up into an accomplished, balanced young woman. Her intellectual and emotional maturity has shown through since she was a toddler. One morning when she was two, she looked up at the morning sky and saw the moon still shining. “I want to go there,” she informed her father. From that moment, she added astronaut to her running list of things she wanted to be, along with doctor, mommy, and dancer. While her plans have shifted over time, her clarity of concept and drive to set and meet goals have only grown.

In elementary school, Sarah Jane was lucky to participate in an experimental mixed-age classroom. A pair of master educators guided her through four grades. Goal setting, creative problem solving, team effort, and leadership skills were cornerstones of the classroom. In middle school, Sarah Jane demonstrated her ability to pull together a diverse group of friends while maintaining academic excellence. Her network spanned cliques and grade levels. Her parties brought together girls who didn’t previously socialize at school but found camaraderie in Sarah Jane’s circle.

She was active in student council, serving as 7th grade class president, and assuming the role of overall student council president in 8th grade. She didn’t just take these roles as ceremonial. She set practical goals and achieved them. For example, in 7th grade she led an effort to raise funds and gain administration support to install shower curtains in the PE locker rooms.

When she graduated from 8th grade, she not only led her class in academics, but was also granted Sedalia Middle School’s highest honor, the Scholarship Award, which recognizes the student who demonstrates an outstanding balance of achievement in academics, physical fitness, leadership, and community service.

As her parents, we’ve understood that Sarah Jane’s talent and intellect deserve to be nurtured and challenged. In Sedalia, we were very involved in supporting the school system, but also recognized its limitations. In the end, we felt that the best course of action was to relocate to a school system with greater opportunities, but that was a drastic step we couldn’t take against Sarah Jane’s wishes. When we broached the idea, she readily agreed. Her goals call for attending a prestigious college, and she was intent on having the academic preparation to be successful.

Uprooting our lives was no small matter. Before we could buy a new house, we had to decide where to move. We did extensive research to select a high school that would be the best match to our criteria. In the end, Sarah Jane toured three schools and made the final decision about which institution would be the best fit.

We moved in the summer before her 9th grade year, full of hope. Once school started, however, Sarah Jane found the transition more traumatic than she had anticipated. She had to catch up with a new level of academic rigor, especially in mathematics where the Sedalia system had significantly slowed her progress. On top of that, she was now removed from her old network of friends and new relationships didn’t quickly materialize. She spent several months concerned and unhappy, but gradually began to find the groove. By the end of her freshman year, she had conquered her challenges in math and had assembled a new, diverse cadre of friends.

Sarah Jane thrives on new experiences, new relationships, and new challenges. We see MSA, should she be selected to attend, as a pivotal opportunity for her to engage and function within a world of her peers – other students drawn toward a lifetime of leadership. MSA is a chance for her to discover new intellectual interests and new relationships with bright minds.

As Sarah Jane looks forward to the future, her thoughts are turning to the challenge of discovering which of her broad interests she most wants to pursue. Unlike many of us, she is accomplished in both analytical and creative thinking. She’s particularly intrigued by math, science, literature, language, politics, and psychology. She’s decided that she wants to be known as an expert in her field but is concerned that “her field” is currently “things that Sarah Jane likes.” She has determined that she needs to explore her interests, meet people from various disciplines, and try on various roles to see what most sparks her endless curiosity and passion to learn and create.

As her parents, we can’t foresee the future. But, as we think back on how she’s lived the past sixteen years, it’s clear that Sarah Jane will soon look up, point at her goal, and say “I want to go there.” And, have no doubt, she will go there.

The Graduate

Sarah Jane Bever-Chritton

Our daughter, Sarah Jane, graduates from college in just a few weeks. I’m going to leave it to you to insert your favorite cliché about the speed of time, the growth of our children, and the value of family.

I’ll just add that I’m amazed that we no longer have a precocious preschooler at home, but at the same time it seems like adult Sarah Jane has always been a part of our lives.

This is due in part, I’m sure, to the fact that the kid was born 37-years-old. Her maturity, determination, and intellect helped her earn a spot at Yale. Those same qualities are also why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is lucky to have her joining their staff this summer.

Paul Simon said it best in Father and Daughter:

I’m gonna watch you shine.
Gonna watch you grow.
Gonna paint a sign
So you’ll always know,
As long as one and one is two
There could never be a father who loved
His daughter more than I love you.

By the way, credit for the beautiful photo of Sarah Jane on Yale’s Old Campus belongs to her friend and classmate Julie Leong.

Preview of coming attractions

Planet Comicon website
We launched a new Planet Comicon website in the fall of 2014. (click to enlarge.)

I’ve learned a lot about event marketing through Planet Comicon. I’ve started thinking about the best way to share my insights. I’m crafting a presentation titled “The Superhero Secrets of Comicon Marketing.” It’s all about how to promote events that “leap tall buildings in a single bound!”

Our online community is always eager for updates, and I’ve enjoyed testing various techniques to build our community and drive engagement. In the past several months we’ve launched a new website, rolled out event management system, and refined our approach to social media and email marketing.

As a sneak peek, here are some of the topics I’m developing for the presentation:

  • Secret Origins: How Stan Lee Invented Social Media Marketing in 1962
  • Alter Ego: The intersection of nerd marketing and sports marketing
  • Utility Belt: Tap into your most effective tools and attributes
  • The Bat Signal: Communicating to the right audience
  • Team-ups: Enlist the strongest allies
  • X-Ray Vision: Using powerful images to magnify your reach
  • Battle of Champions: Using game incentives to achieve goals

I won’t be able to really finish the presentation until after the event in March, but I’m doing my best to take notes and highlight good statistics to include as case study elements.

Pulse-Pounding Planetary Proclamations

Planet Comicon logoPlanning and facilitating Planet Comicon 2014 was intense to say the least. I’ve needed some time away from it to decompress and gain perspective. I’m going start writing short items recapping the highlights. I’ll post some of them here and others on social media.

First off, it was a tremendous success — an accomplishment of staggering proportions. We set records for attendance, with something like 40,000 fans of superheroes, science fiction, fantasy, anime, and pop culture coming to Bartle Hall for three days of geek glory in mid-March. The event was extensively covered by the local media. Vendors, celebrities, and comics creators had a great opportunity to meet fans and sell their wares. Best of all, at the end of Day Three, nearly every single person seemed thrilled to have been a part of the event.

On the other hand, you don’t move an army of this size without worry, stress, and a tremendous amount of exertion. The Planet Comicon team all put in innumerable hours in advance of the show. That, of course, starts with the show’s owner and director, Chris Jackson, and includes Jeff Yenzer, Matt Driscoll, Kelly Bever, Bryan Ward, Mike Sullivan, Jason P. Hunt, Victor Pena, and our team of nearly 100 volunteers.

Before I write my recaps, here are some video highlights of the show courtesy of the fans and local television.

Transforming Opaque Data into an Immersive Experience

Kirk Chritton at Microsoft

My guest article for the Microsoft PowerBI blog was released today. It also includes the video that MCH CEO Peter Long and I appear in.

It’s a bit odd to summarize myself, but the basic gist of the piece is that data visualization tools like Microsoft’s PowerMap transform grey rows of data into immersive images that reveal the patterns that our eyes and brains are wired to understand. MCH Strategic Data is using these tools to help our clients gain new insights into the business-to-institution marketplace.

In the early days, our “database” of school principals consisted of metal Addressograph plates sorted into long trays. “Visualizing our data” meant looking at the green cabinet where the plates were stored.

Modern data visualization tools are the key to bringing the bits and bytes into view. Hidden patterns transform into revealing animated images that quickly convey meaning and insight.

These tools breathe life into our data just as CGI has revolutionized Hollywood animation. If MCH’s old Addressograph plates were the equivalent of stacks of hand-drawn animation cels used to generate the earliest cartoons, then the impact of visualized data is like James Cameron immersing us in a 3-D IMAX movie.

It’s been great fun to work with Microsoft on the video and blog, and it’s been even more fun to explore MCH’s data using PowerMap.

The Christmas Story about The Christmas Song


Each year around Christmas I like to revisit a heartwarming story about Mel Tormé as told by screenwriter Mark Evanier. Evanier is a Los Angeles native who has been in the television, animation, and comics industries since the early 1970s. His blog has become known as a reliable souce for a heartfelt obituary/eulogy column for many famous folks when they pass away, often with a personal anecdote about working with them.

He wrote this piece when actor/singer/songwriter Mel Tormé died in 1999. Here’s a snippet:

“That’s Mel Tormé down there. Do you know who he is?”

The singer was about 25 so it didn’t horrify me that he said, “No.”

I asked, “Do you know ‘The Christmas Song?'”

Again, a “No.”

I said, “That’s the one that starts, ‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…'”

“Oh, yes,” the caroler chirped. “Is that what it’s called? ‘The Christmas Song?'”

“That’s the name,” I explained. “And that man wrote it.” The singer thanked me, returned to his group for a brief huddle…and then they strolled down towards Mel Tormé. I ditched the rest of my sandwich and followed, a few steps behind. As they reached their quarry, they began singing, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” directly to him.

Okay, it keeps going and gets better, so jump on over to Evanier’s site to enjoy it. And if you lilke that one, you might also enjoy his behind-the-scenes encounters with Larry Hagman at the pinnacle of his Dallas stardom.

Adventures with Microsoft

Kirk Chritton at Microsoft
My Microsoft screen debut.

MCH’s relationship with Microsoft has truly blossomed. We’ve been working closely with the product team that’s developing PowerMap and other tools in the Power BI suite. In fact, CEO Peter Long and I traveled to Redmond this fall to record a video for the Microsoft folks.

After a few rounds of edits, it’s really powerful. Now we’re just waiting for the big reveal, and I’m dying to share it. As soon as it gets the green light, I’ll post it here. Watch. This. Space.

A very KCDMA Christmas

KCDMA LogoAs KCDMA president, it was my honor to host the annual holiday party last night. I know that Kelly and I had a wonderful time visiting with fellow board members and past presidents, and the feeling seemed to be mutual.

These social gatherings always make me aware of how genuinely nice direct marketers tend to be. Our group spans various disciplines and at least two generations, but everyone seems cut from some of the same cloth: smart, curious, welcoming, hardworking, and nerdy in at least some way. In other words, this is my tribe!

It’s been a great year at the KCDMA. Happy holidays, everyone!