The school was breaking precedent. Usually a professor was emcee (aka, was Master of Ceremonies) at the annual Biology Department banquet. This year they chose me to run the show. The idea wasn’t that outlandish on the surface; I had been the Biology Society President and was generally considered a respectable, capable leader. True, I didn’t exactly have a lot of public speaking experience [translation: none], but maybe they just felt sorry for me [long story for another time]. Or maybe all the professors refused to do it and desperation set in. Either way, I was emcee.
I have to admit I didn’t really prepare ahead of time, not having a clue what an emcee did at such a banquet, and not receiving any guidance. “Just introduce the speakers and the awards” was the only advice I received. The department had printed a colorful program that I was to follow, on which I immediately found a typographical error (perhaps I was destined to be a writer, or at least an editor). Not having prepared any opening remarks, which I discovered was a requirement when I arrived that night and noticed the program stated the emcee would offer “opening remarks,” I did the only thing I could do – I winged it.
Holding up the night’s program to the gathered guests – professors, students, a dean or two – I duly pointed out there was a small typo. While updating the names on the previous year’s program, the fact that the previous year had two emcees went unnoticed. Hence, I noted to the crowd, my name was listed under the heading “Masters of Ceremonies,” plural.
“Alas,” I exclaimed, “my astrological sign is indeed Gemini – the Twins – but I’ve never actually felt like a dual entity before.”
That got a loud laugh from the room [Trust me, it was funnier in person, especially in that more astrologically-aware time period]. The rest of the night was a piece of cake (except for that awkward moment when introducing the Biology Major Award, only to find out seconds later I was the recipient).
In thinking about this many years later I realized my life could be characterized in duality as well. Growing up on the shore led me early to a life as a marine biologist. Well, a few years as a working marine biologist before shifting to related scientific fields with more financial potential. For three decades I was a paid scientist working for a series of consulting firms, and lastly, as a scientist in a law firm. The work was both fulfilling, and while layoffs and impending layoffs were a constant fact my entire career, it paid the bills until I left to focus on my writing. So scientist is one entity.
The other entity is historian, in particular the study of Abraham Lincoln, his life and times. This didn’t pay. I did it on the side, after work, on the weekends, and whenever I could afford to scavenge the used book store circuit. My fascination with Lincoln kept me interested in history and how it relates to today. Once I quit “the day job” I was able to focus even more on Lincoln, including my active involvement with several Lincoln organizations. I also wrote a book on Lincoln that has been very successful.
This “dual entity” theme has given my life variety and fulfillment. More recently it has expanded to include what could be considered a third entity – traveler. Not surprisingly, much of my traveling builds on the original base duality.
Maybe being a Gemini was fate after all.
The “Biology President as Emcee” idea was carried over the following year, but rumor has it that my successor’s performance caused the department to revert to its previous reliance on professor-only emcees. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.