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Ten Pin Revelations

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The Last Word
adam calaway

If you ever meet Natalie Kirkwyland, you're going to feel better about life. Natalie's a living Roman candle, a pop of iridescent hope in an often bleak world.

Natalie came to the Noble Research Institute from the State University of New York-Cobleskill as one of this year's Noble Research Scholars. Every summer, our organization offers a dozen of the best and brightest minds the rare opportunity to become either a Noble Research Scholar or a Lloyd Noble Scholar in Agriculture.

These two internship programs one focused on laboratory research; the other focused on applied research and agricultural consultation bring together college students for three months of redefining experiences. They work. They bond. They return home forever changed. So, often, they leave their coworkers with a renewed sense of confidence in the coming generation. Natalie certainly did that for anyone who crossed her path. She skipped into Noble radiating a mix of childlike joy and mature eagerness.

She was always happy. Always. No matter the challenge dumped at her feet. Huge research project. She'd just giggle, put her nose down and crush it. Scary social situation. No worries. She'd be the first to stick her hand out and introduce herself.

It wouldn't matter if you'd just been audited, Natalie could make you smile by just being Natalie. She was a plucky little ray of sunshine even when she was dominating you at bowling.

On a nondescript Wednesday night, the research scholars, along with my communications intern, instituted a tradition of competing against their mentors in a few friendly frames of bowling. We gathered at the local lanes, slipped on some recently fumigated shoes and looked for a ball that least resembled the surface of the moon.

For the record, I never enter any athletic competition expecting victory. But my Y chromosome leads to the inevitable assumption that I should best a 21-year-old with a bobbed haircut. Teams were selected, and it quickly became clear that these Millennials were going to dominate. I was amazed at Natalie's ability to bowl while laughing. Giggle. Giggle. Strike. Giggle. Giggle. Spare. Giggle. Giggle. Crush my ego.

With my self-esteem rolling down the gutter, I stepped back from the microcosm of this "friendly team competition" and looked at the whole picture. Our baker's dozen of bowlers included multiple generations, ethnicities and points of view.

Little moments like this always sneak up on me. Moments when I find myself struck by the simple joy of people enjoying people. No masks. No titles. Just humans with no obvious common bonds finding mutual admiration.

And then there were the scholars. They stood out even in this eclectic group. So young and capable. So different from the zombie youth marching lockstep into nothingness. These intelligent, sweet-spirited young people defy generational labels. They possess a remarkable desire to contribute. They are the future, and that should make us all happy.

Even if they kick your butt at bowling.