THE GLOW STICK PEP RALLY
RAISING MONEY & CAUSING A RUCKUS
I will never forget my first trip to Disney World. The overwhelming magic. The endless frozen chocolate bananas. And the most coincidental instance of bumping into my neighbor amid thousands of people, a thousand miles from home. What are the chances of that, right?
Only at Disney World.
As for most people, my admiration for Walt Disney began as a child. Specifically, the moment I watched the Fantasia VHS.
It was difficult for me to stay put in the same place for any longer than the time it took to use the restroom. I was always running around, causing a ruckus, non-stop.
But Fantasia planted my feet before the TV and sent my imagination into a magical world. From the design of the VHS packaging to the first frame and score of the animation, it was an experience I would never forget. I was mesmerized and glued to the tube for hours.
Walt turned a 2.8 million budget into a whopping 80 million at the box office.
But managing budgets and monies are said to be battles he fought his entire life.
And I believe it. Because dreams don’t have price tags.
And when you dream as big as Walt, there are no simple ways to define how much it would cost to bring such ideas to life.
Walt was free from the tech — the computers and fine tuned algorithms we use today to make predictions and increase our productivity. Byte, by byte.
Just pens, and paint, and papers and crazy thinkers. Artists and business pioneers. All working under the vision of the legendary Walt Disney.
How was he so productive? How did Walt manage to consistently crank out films like a well-oiled machine?
I believe the foundation for his success was deeply rooted in the way he managed his resources — to achieve the maximum amount of creativity and productivity, every day he worked.
In short, it is called the Disney Method, and he devised this strategy to get shit done. He broke down the creative process by implementing three distinct disciplines; The Dreamer, The Realist and The Critic.
The dreamers fantasized. Their minds wondered freely. There were no filters. Imagine a room full of thinkers, pacing around, spewing out the most insanely epic ideas. The aim for the dreamers was all about the ‘Why Not? Anything can happen. Think big!’
The ideas were then passed over to the Realists, who would inspect them with a microscope. Striving to mold the ideas into practical concepts, Realists closely examined ideas to determine ‘How’ it can be done. Realists didn’t care whether or not the idea could be achieved. They focused on how to make it happen.
And then came the Critic, also known as the spoiler. Critics sought week spots in the idea. To knock it down, tear it up and make the most logical sense of the concept.
Legend has it that Walt would only work on the ideas which survived all three disciplines — the ideas brought to him by the harshest thinkers of all, the Critics.
And so the story goes…
In high school I was elected to lead the fundraising efforts of our student government. My title was Fundraising Chairman. I ran a badass campaign named ‘Let’s Put The Fun In Fundraising’. Brilliant, right?
I had a lot to live up to following the success of my campaign, similar to how Trump needs to make America Great again…hopefully by the time I get back home.
Anyway. I always brought fun ideas to the table for how to raise money. My ideas were shot down most of the time. The killing of ideas is all part of the creative process.
And interesting enough, the Disney Method suggests, to segregate the dreamers, realists and critics during brainstorming sessions. But why?
Have you ever wondered why most group brainstorming sessions are a waste of time when the room is filled with dreamers, realists and critics? The ideas do not get the proper time to breathe. Everybody shouts, instantly raises doubts and constantly touts.
One day, an idea came to me for how to raise money. An idea that Guy Kawasaki would say is both “differentiated and valuable.” The key to a solid idea or quality product is one that attracts evangelists. I knew I had to sell it.
My goal was to convince the student government to believe, and as a creative person, the efficacy of my communication is enhanced through visuals.
So I walked to the chalkboard and drew a grid like this;
And before I said anything, I filled in the sections like this;
It was Monday and student government were planning homecoming — an expensive celebration.
I pointed to my drawing on the chalk board as I began to share my idea, “Look. We have a pep rally this Friday to kick start homecoming weekend. And this layout represents the location where each class sits in the gymnasium, got it?”
Pep rallies were the best. And they always concluded with a competition, where all classes competed to make the most noise and ruckus. Juniors usually won, as many seniors were too cool for pep rallies and opted out.
This was a pep rally you did not want to miss.
I continued with my idea…
“Everybody in this room has until Friday at 2PM to sell as many glow sticks as possible to as many students as possible. We will assign each class a color, and only sell that color to the students who belong to that class. Freshmen, green. Sophomores pink. Juniors yellow and Seniors white. Let’s charge $1 for each glow stick. Let’s buy 150 glow sticks of each color. What we don’t sell we will return. At the end of the pep rally, the lights will get shut off. The gym will be pitch black. At this point, the students will be told to crack their sticks and hold them in the air. The class that shines the brightest will get to leave school one hour early on Monday. We will make $600 in four days. What do you think?”
Everybody in the room began to shout. But it was a good type of shouting.
The moment I stopped talking, remarks fired off, as follows;
“Yeah, but we only have four days!”
“How much do glow sticks cost?”
“Who is going to sell glow sticks to the students?”
“Where are you going to buy the glow sticks, Jordan?”
My fellow comrades were on board. At least they were curious. The answers to their questions would become the solution to my idea.
But nobody asked the most important question of all;
“What do you think is really going to happen when you give 600 teenagers a bunch of glow sticks and turn off the lights as they compete for the chance to win a ticket to ‘get out of class early?”
Our student government supervisor, a hip English teacher at our school was leaning back in his chair, as we brainstormed more ideas onto the chalk board.
He was a DJ, by the name DJ Soul Finger.
I walked up to his desk and saw him smiling. This guy always smiled. Also kept a bottle of Visine eye drops in his top left drawer, for some reason…
He raised his hand over his head to hi-five me, and said, “Let’s do it!”
He made an executive decision, even before he ran the idea by the high school principal.
He got up from his chair, and we planned for next 15 minutes.
On Tuesday morning, student government met in his office.
We each took a bag full of multicolored glow sticks and were told to bring the money we made to his office at the end of each day. It was time to execute.
I gave the morning announcements senior year.
Each morning the school secretary provided me a paper full of information, and my job was to announce it over the loud speakers.
My favorite part? I got one minute to say whatever I wanted :)
So after we pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, I stepped up to the microphone and read my speech.
“Goooooooood morning victorious Kings Knights! Who will be the homecoming queen and king this year? Don’t forget to submit your votes by the end of the day today! It’s time to rise and shine, and I hope to have your attention — you don’t want to miss this! Each day this week, your student government will be selling glow sticks in the cafeteria and throughout the halls between classes. Each glow stick is just $1. We’re raising money to make this homecoming all that we can, and we need your help! So scrounge up your pocket change to buy as many glow sticks as you can! Freshmen. Your color is green. Sophomores, pink. Juniors out there your color is yellow. And to all my seniors, our color is white! Be sure to buy your class color and now listen up to the game plan! During Friday’s pep rally, the lights will get shut off. The gym will be pitch black. And the class section to shine the brightest will get to leave school one hour early next Monday! So which class out there is the brightest? There will also be live music at this pep rally, so get ready to rock! It is 46 degrees with clear skies. Have a great day!”
The only thing I cared about that week was selling glow sticks.
I sold glow sticks during class. I sold glow sticks out of my locker and I sold glow sticks on the bus. I sold glow sticks to every teacher I had.
And none of this would’ve worked without the support of the student government — my teammates, who set up glow stick booths and worked their magic each day of the week.
On Friday morning a student came to my locker and asked if he could buy two more glow sticks.
“I’m sorry but I’m all out. Thanks so much and get ready for the pep rally,” I replied.
If you were at Kings High School on Friday at 2PM, then you were in the gym. It was packed.
I was standing in the top rafters with my band. We had just finished playing live music to the thousands of people scattered throughout the gymnasium.
Our little three song show went great, but all I could think of was the glow stick pep rally.
It was time.
The one and only hilarious host of our pep rally grabbed the mic.
“Alright Kings Knights, I want to hear some noise! It’s time to learn which class is the brightest! So unwrap your glow sticks and prepare for the lights to go off in 10, 9, 8, 7”, he counted backwards and did a little dance to hype up the crowd.
I had two glow sticks in each hand, ready to crack. Then all of a sudden they disappeared out of my site as the gym morphed into blackness.
Glow sticks cracked ‘on’ like firecrackers and an ambient glow rose from the bleachers.
The host shouted on the microphone, “I can’t see you Freshmen. Is that all you got?”
The gym was so bright you could see the basketball hoops from the top rafters. It was psychedelic.
And all it took was one trouble maker Freshmen to screw it up for everyone.
A single green light flew out from the bleachers at mach speed and slammed straight into the senior section.
The seniors fired back at once like soldiers in the revolutionary war. Sparkling white shooting stars slammed into the section of Freshmen.
It was mayhem. And within ten seconds the entire gym floor was glowing. Students screamed and scurried through the bleachers, grabbing every glow stick they could and launched them like grenades.
I took cover in the rafters and thought to myself, this was not part of the plan.
And at that moment, the gym speakers squealed, as the high school principle turned on the microphone — maxed out volume.
He yelled at the top of his lungs, “If I see one more glow stick fly in the air. Homecoming is cancelled!”
The gym lights turned on and the students were silent.
The principal resumed to yell, “This is absolutely the most unacceptable behavior I have ever witnessed from my students. I am embarrassed. And you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’ll never know which one of you threw that first glow stick, but if you want to walk right down here right now and apologize for what you started, that would put a smile on my face. And while I wait right here for you, I will hand the mic back to your host, to wrap this nonsense up immediately.”
It’s never fun to watch a cool teacher get angry. He calmly said, “This pep rally is over. Everybody join me on the court and clean up the mess you made. Have a wonderful homecoming”.
And that’s the story of the glow stick pep rally.
You see, Dreamers love for their ideas to become reality. That was one epic pep rally. Most likely the first and last time my high school will do this.
The Realists merely thought the idea was a means to raise money. And from this regard, the fundraising was deemed successful.
Raising monies was the top priority for the Critics. And given the attractive margin on the cost and sale of the glow sticks, the possibility of causing such a ruckus was not considered — never part of the equation.
I recommend the book, Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely.
I read it four years after I caused this glow stick ruckus, and I remembered how irrational our student behavior at this pep rally.
“Once you see how systematic certain mistakes are — how we repeat them again and again — I think you will begin to learn how to avoid some of them,” Ariely writes.
If I could turn back time to prevent the chaos that ensued, I would’ve proposed the following preemptive ideas;
- All students to wear their glow sticks around their wrists when they enter the gymnasium.
- The true way to determine the winner would be to count the glow sticks, one by one at the end of the pep rally.
- At the end of the pep rally, all of the students would be required to drop their glow sticks in a bucket that would be passed around their section.
But even still, this pep rally may have been doomed to cause a ruckus. No matter what.