Posted by J. C. Burcham
About 40 Rotarians from our district, including JC Burcham and Jason and Jacci Leib, attended the Rotary International Convention in Atlanta. 
I had never been to a Rotary International Convention before, and how could you say no to Atlanta during my year as president? 
I arrived on Friday, June 9th, somehow not realizing that the actual convention didn't start until Sunday. No matter, there's plenty to see and do in Atlanta, and my friend (and concurrent president of the Shawnee club), Stephanie Meyer, laid out a packed agenda for us. On our first night, we had dinner with Jason and Jacci Leib at Cooks & Soldiers. Phil Hammond's nephew, Connor, is a bartender there, and he took great care of us! 
On Saturday, we checked out Atlanta's new baseball stadium and watched the Braves play against the New York Mets. It was fun rooting against the Mets, but they completely dominated the Braves. Note: My 5 year old daughter packed her toy condor in my suitcase so I took him with me around town, which is why he appears in some of the photos.
Saturday evening, Stephanie and I had dinner at The Watershed, where they specialize in creative interpretations of traditional southern comfort food. We joined up with some Rotarians from Yonkers, NY, and had a lovely evening.
I attended the Opening Ceremony on Sunday, June 11, at the Georgia World Congress Center. There are so many people from all over the world attending, they split the Opening Ceremony into two different sessions so everyone can have a chance to attend. (I think the total number of people this year was something like 35,000-40,000. It's almost unbelievable!) I attended the first (early) session at 10am. The flag ceremony showcased every flag from around the world. People from various countries would cheer when their flag appeared. After the last national flag took its place on stage, the announcer asked the entire congregation to stand in honor of the one flag that unites us all: Rotary. Everyone cheered loudly. It was such a beautiful and moving moment. We are all united in Rotary. 
I also enjoyed the full, hour-long concert performed by the Atlanta Pops Orchestra. World class!! 
After some of my friends attended the second/afternoon session, we walked down Marietta street toward our hotel and found that streets had been closed to foot and bike traffic only in celebration of Atlanta Streets Alive! Thousands of people milled about in the afternoon sun, smiling, drinking, and gnawing on watermelon-mojito popsicles. We noticed rows and rows of chairs set up in the middle of the street with a sign that read, "Jen and Ty invite you to crash their wedding!" Stephanie and I looked at each other and took a seat. About 20 minutes later, Jen and Ty were united in marriage in front of thousands of strangers, and one giant party was starting! We didn't stick around for that party, as we had plans to meet some other Rotarians for dinner at The Optimist, a restaurant famous for its oyster bar. I had never tried oysters before, so that was interesting! 
Monday morning was one of my favorite parts of the convention. When we arrived at the general session, each attendee found a white "End Polio Now" bracelet on his or her seat. We put them on. Bill Gates spoke about the importance of polio eradication, and to provide a visual demonstration of the campaign's success, our white bracelets magically lit up. As Bill Gates rattled off statistics, the number of glowing bracelets dwindled, reflecting the dramatic decrease in polio cases worldwide since Rotary's involvement. It was a powerful and exciting message. Numerous countries and organizations pledged their financial support to end polio, including $450 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Afterwards, John Cena, who was emceeing the morning's session, held up his fingers in the characteristic "We're this close" gesture, then he closed his index finger to his thumb and said how great it will be when we can "drop to zero." The crowd erupted with jubilation and energy. Rotary is now using this phrase, "Drop to Zero," for the final push to eradicate polio.  (For a video of the visual demonstration, check this out: )
Next, a panel of experts, including Ashton Kutcher, spoke about the importance of ending human trafficking and slavery. Many people were surprised to hear Ashton Kutcher sounding so intelligent about a complex topic, but he's a fellow Iowan, so this came as no surprise to me. :) The panelists laid out their reasons for why Rotary should embrace the effort to end human trafficking. It is certainly a cause that appeals to Millenials, and as we know, Rotary is actively trying to recruit younger Rotarians. I tried to attend some break-out sessions on this topic, but they filled to maximum capacity an hour ahead of time.
Tuesday's general session was also filled with great speakers, but my favorite was Andrew Young. I confess I was not all that familiar with who he is, but his presence and energy was captivating and riveting. He was the only person I know of who spoke without a script or teleprompter. He announced, after arriving on stage on his scooter, that instead of a funeral last week, he had an 86th birthday. He spoke indirectly about his experience with the civil rights movement, but mostly his message was about making the most of the opportunities that are presented to us. "To  whom much is given, much is expected." 
Also at this session, I learned a new and powerful way to respond to the question, "What is Rotary?" Start by rephrasing the question. It should be, "WHO is Rotary?" And the answer is: WE ARE PEOPLE OF ACTION. Together, we connect. Inspire. Build communities. End polio. _________. You fill in the blank.
My experience at my first Rotary International Convention is one I'll never forget. I met people from Haiti, Nigeria, Australia, Bangladesh, and Madison, Wisconsin. I love knowing that we are all united in Rotary. We are committed to service above self. I am proud to be a Rotarian.