A Tradition of Excellence

This article was written by Steven Hoffman, PA-TSA member at Lower Merion High School.

At the close of the PA-TSA State Conference, someone asked me a question that I had never really answered before. “Steven,” she said, “what does TSA mean to you?” Despite six years in TSA, I couldn’t answer the question right away. I just couldn’t put my finger on what it all truly meant to me. I had a very long bus ride home to ponder, so I took advantage of this opportunity to reflect.

Disclaimer: the answer is rather lengthy.

In 2007, my brother came home from his first PA-TSA State Conference with first place trophies in Technology Bowl, both written and oral. Like any eleven-year-old, I wanted to be just like my brother. So the next school year, even though sixth grade was scary and new, I joined TSA in my middle school.

Little did I know how much that decision would change my life.

In six years, I’ve seen events come and go, change titles, and change rules. I’ve competed in countless events at all levels of competition—winning first place, getting disqualified, and everything in between. I’ve seen amazing officer teams get elected, serve, and lead by example. I’ve watched old friends graduate, even though I made new friends with every conference. I’ve seen bylaw amendments come and go. I’ve founded and served on a committee that continues to make an impact in TSA. I’ve somehow managed to be a scavenger hunt item for Tennessee TSA.

And I’ve learned so much along the way.

I’ve debated on challenging technological issues. I’ve learned how light pollution affects the environment. I’ve learned about transportation, construction, and manufacturing systems. I’ve learned how to run a business meeting in less than fifteen minutes. I’ve learned how factory farming and genetic engineering have affected our agricultural system. I’ve learned so much about music production, photography, and graphic design. I’ve learned about the intricacies of website design. And the best part: I know I’m not done learning, and I never will be.

Perhaps learning things more important than the STEM education itself—

“Huh?!” you exclaim, flabbergasted, “How dare he claim that something is more important than STEM education? Isn’t TSA’s motto, ‘Learning to live in a technical world’?”

Well, yes. Notwithstanding the organization’s technology-based focus, I would like to take a moment to highlight a slightly more meaningful word: “Learning to live in a technical world.”

TSA isn’t just about the technology. It’s about learning. We are Students, who band together in an Association devoted to learning to live in a Technical world.

It’s about learning. It’s about community. It’s about servant leadership. It’s about giving back. It’s about gracious professionalism. It’s about design as an iterative process. It’s about failure not being terminal. It’s about taking care of the people, so that the machines take care of themselves. It’s about us versus the problem. It’s about social consciousness. It’s about making friendships and connections, gaining skills and knowledge, and acquiring a tradition of excellence that will last a lifetime.

I’ve learned so much in six years. I’ve learned how to tie a tie. I’ve learned how to be a leader. I’ve learned how to be a team player. I’ve learned how to stay positive when everything seems to be going wrong. I’ve learned from my mistakes and come back from them even stronger than before. I’ve learned how to be a confident speaker. I’ve learned how to communicate an idea effectively, with clarity and poise. I’ve learned how to carry myself in an interview. I’ve learned what it takes to make an impact.

That’s why whenever someone asks me why I do TSA, I reply with the words of the TSA Creed. Before high school, I never realized the true significance of our creed. Through my experiences founding and serving in the PA-TSA Membership Committee, I began to see just how relevant it all is. The TSA Creed provides context for our motto, and ultimately, for my experience in TSA. It is both a statement and a promise that defines a member’s role in the classroom, community, and organization. However, it is not solely applicable to TSA members, but rather to the entire world’s student population. For me, TSA means bringing that same commitment to the creed to other students. My participation in TSA represents not only a personal commitment to STEM education, but the firm belief that STEM education is relevant and important for every student, not just for a select few. I’ve spent six years discovering this.

The trouble is…after the 2013 PA-TSA State Conference, I’ve come to the startling realization that I only have one year left.

As I talked with my best friend, a graduating senior, after the 2013 PA-TSA State Conference, we both realized that our time in TSA is coming to a close. One national conference for him, then one more regional, state, and national conference for me, and that will be it. Since middle school, my final year in TSA remained on the distant horizon, something always present in my vision but at the back of my mind. Each year, the graduating class created bigger and bigger shoes to fill. In June 2012, my brother attended his last TSA conference. At the end of the conference, I wondered what it would be like my junior year—my first year in TSA without him. Truthfully, I wondered how I would survive. How could I be a leader in this organization and do justice to the legacy those who came before me? How could I exhibit the spirit of innovation while maintaining a tradition of excellence?

Though I would’ve liked to know back in June, I’ve just realized the answer: It’s time to pass on the traditions.

It’s time to teach the next generation how to complete a binder, how to wow the judges in an interview, how to put that extra sparkle on events, how to put the patch on your navy blue blazer, how to sleep on a bus, and how to get as much out of this amazing organization as you can.

It’s time to teach the next generation:

How to Imagine It!

How to Shape the Future.

How to become Tomorrow’s Leaders.

How to take a Snapshot of Innovation.

How to navigate The Road to Success.

How to continue A Tradition of Excellence.

How to embody The Spirit of Innovation.

I have one year left. I could either use it to sulk about leaving behind one of my most favorite activities from middle and high school or give back and give more students the same opportunities I had. If there’s one piece of advice I can give to the current and future members of TSA, it’s to take the initiative and go that extra step—you never know what opportunities may arise.

Good luck to all seniors in the college process, and remember to remain true to the TSA Creed.