Who says you can’t learn through play?

The 2015 NMC Summer Conference in Washington, D.C. happened over two amazing days in the middle of June. There, I asked attendees to tell the story of conference through the eyes of three unlikely (some might even say “obscure”) characters  — former US presidents Chester Arthur, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Grover Cleveland. What was the point of this novel experiment? It was absurd. Surely, there were tons of paper wasted in the process.* Why, for the love of presidents, did this game make any sense at all?

There was no clear answer at the time. However, at the end of that 48-hour period, I would be standing on the ballroom stage in front of hundreds of NMC folks, the unlikely and, quite frankly, unlucky person to follow Pulitzer-prizewinning photographer and all-around-awesome storyteller Bill Frakes. Tired, angry, and in desperate need of a bagel, I ran to the stage. It was time to deliver the results. I’m glad I had a good story to tell.

Over two days, more than 80 people took to Twitter and told the tale of three antiquated US leaders and their antics at a very much 21st century professional event. There were views perfect for networking opportunities. There were intellectually stimulating breakout sessions. And, there were quite a few happy hours. It wasn’t long before we all knew the major players, and they were racking up points every time they tweeted #b3p. I was lucky enough to encounter a handy social media tool, Tagboard, which provided a way for me to organize these vignettes.

And now, 10 highlights from the Between 3 Presidents game (#b3p) + my commentary (click thumbnails to enlarge):

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 11.25.07 AM10. Live music is always a part of the NMC’s annual meeting, planned or unplanned. Danielle Wishka caught Rutherford B. Hayes taking advantage of his two dimensions to get the best seat in the house while fellow NMCer John Hildreth played on.

9. Where there’s music, there’s wine, and a good excuse for presidents to come together. Susan Tade caught the Obscure Presidential Summit in action at the opening reception.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 1.12.28 PM8. Jorge Bossio took #b3p to the next level with an inventive approach that had his Twitter followers laughing. Rutherford Hayes went to work spreading the word about the conference’s breakout sessions. Oh, and don’t miss Jorge’s #b3p parody of the movie, The Hangover.

7. Making was a key topic featured at this year’s conference; this was especially apparent in this snapshot of Rutherford B. Hayes with everyone’s favorite robot, Tommy, who is donning a custom LED embossed headband. NMC couture. Très chic! Designed by Sarah Schauss and Emily Waz.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 11.53.44 AM6. Nori Barajas-Murphy took to her first NMC Summer Conference like a fish to water, using her photo magic to up the game in all the right ways. Chester was grateful for the publicity.

5. Absurdity is artful, and I don’t care what you think. This image of Grover Cleveland in the wild is the epitome of everything that was right and wrong with the #b3p game. Thank you for hitting the nail on the head, Erin Scott.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 12.08.03 PM4. A number of players were concerned about the lack of female representation in the presidents game, but Robin Fay nipped that in the bud.

3. It’s not a game without steep competition, and that’s what Tanya Joosten brought to the table as she and Chester Arthur owned the duty of 2015 NMC Summer Conference Correspondents. Because of Tanya and Chester’s teamwork, and their unique hashtag (#chestersays), no stone was left unturned. Their coverage of the Idea Lab was especially thorough.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 1.48.47 PM2. A good storyteller knows the importance of conflict, and Deborah Keyek-Franssen faced her own. Even though she and Rutherford B. Hayes fell ill, Deb earned high marks for embodying the collaborative spirit of #b3p. Her aptitude for 19th century vernacular was also quite impressive.

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 1.59.06 PM1. Judith Erdman, from University of Massachusetts in Boston, took home the grand prize, with a final tally of 143 points at the time of deliberation. More importantly, she and Grover Cleveland were networking dynamos, meeting and capturing moments with NMCers in every nook and cranny of the Hilton.

Based on Judith’s energetic Twitter-ing, you’d be surprised to find out that before setting foot at the 2015 NMC Summer Conference, she had never tweeted a day in her life! Now, she’s well on her way to going pro. Who says you can’t learn through play? If that isn’t a happy ending, then I don’t know what is.

*No paper was wasted in the making of this publication.

Postscript: This story was made possible by Creative Commons, Tagboard, Twitter, and the Internet.

About The Author

Victoria Estrada has been contributing her writing, research, and editing skills to the NMC Horizon Project since 2012. Before that, she was learning from stellar English language instructors at La Universidad Nacional in Costa Rica, where she worked for a year with a Fulbright grant. Victoria has a Certificate in Non-profit Leadership and Management from Austin Community College, and a bachelor's degree in English Writing & Rhetoric from St. Edward's University. Some of her other interests include people, flora & fauna, sustainability, good coffee, good causes, and photos. She has recently relocated to her hometown -- San Antonio, Texas.