My Coming Out (as a Nerd)

“Hello, Beautiful Nerds!”

That’s the line that Roman Mars used to open up his like show at Town Hall. For those of you who don’t know him, Roman is the host of the hit podcast 99% Invisible. He’s also got a Ph.D. in genetics. So he’s got some serious nerd cred. As I sat there among thousands of nerds, I had to ask the question, “Am I a nerd?” Though I didn’t associate with that label, I figured it was worth investigating.

I went back to summer camp in 1987. I was going into 5th grade. I went to Camp Summit in update New York. It was an idyllic green landscape with these old red bunks that looked like they were barns stolen from a farm. It was very much a nerd free culture. People wanted to talk about sports, they wanted to talk about girls, and they wanted to talk about fashion. If you remember it was the 1980’s and fashion was not doing well but we didn’t realize it at the time.

I got to pick out my own shirts and show people my true personality. At the time they had these dinosaur-themed sports shirts. Like soccer-a-saurus was a dinosaur holding a soccer ball with a long definition of a soccer-a-saurus below. I got all these shirts: soccer-a-saurus, and football-a-saurus, and boxing-a-saurus, and angler-a-saurus (that one was about fishing) not because I liked any of the sports but I because I really liked shirts definitions on them. I also brought my Casio digital watch. This wasn’t your normal digital watch. Mine had a thermometer, barometer, and altimeter. I didn’t know why I needed any of these things but I liked having them. And then I brought an SAT book with me. I wasn’t planning on taking the SAT any time soon, I just liked solving the math problems. Clearly, this camp wasn’t really for me, but I couldn’t accept that so I went for another 6 years.

Over time I found my people. When I got to Yale, I found a lot of smart, academic enthusiasts who enjoyed talking about math and literature and philosophy. I remember visiting my sister at Penn and I told her, “Penn is nice and all. It’s in the Ivy League. But people at Penn don’t seem to have the sorts of conversations and academic discussions that I’m used to at Yale.” When she came to visit me, she said, “Yale is filled with nerds.”

I loved Yale. I would hang out with my friends Lutz and Christine and we would go on fun adventures. We tried to figure out if there was really was a castle at on the roof of the library. We investigated the hell out of this. We looked at blueprints at the library, we talked to people, we even climbed on other roofs nearby to see it. Eventually, we figured out that there was a castle on the roof. It was covering the heating and air conditioning system and this castle facade helped it blend into the facade of the old library.

We also searched for the most unique book we could find at the library. We found a fourth quarto edition of Hamlet from 1601. It was such a valuable book that it wasn’t even kept at the library but in a safe down the street from the library and we could only read it in the special reading room. But we could touch it and read it. The reason this book was so special was that it had one of the only known specimens of William Shakespeare’s signature.

But I didn’t fully embrace the term nerd until about 20 years later. I went to my 20th college reunion. Lutz was there with his family. He brought his daughter Liza. And though Liza spoke English fluently, she’d grown up in who grew up in Germany and didn’t know all the idioms. One day Liza asked her mother “Mommy what’s a nerd?”

And Liza’s mother replied, “Your father and Robert are nerds.”

So these are my people. The nerds. We’re awesome. Being a nerd is about going really deep into something and embracing it and loving it. Like many of you here at Toastmasters. Quinn is a theater nerd. Nicole is a music nerd. Lee is a business and marketing nerd. I implore all of you to embrace your inner nerdiness and to just love the hell out of something and obsess over it, regardless of what anyone else thinks.