The best way to introduce Rob Bliss is with this video of the event that has gotten him national press:I absolutely love this video and it makes me tear-up Every Single time. It’s the combination of the music, the faces, the joy of the moment. So, Who Is Rob Bliss – Rob is a 21 year old community college student from Grand Rapid, Michigan who thought up and organized the ArtPrize Paper Airplane event. He also organized a Zombie Walk, a sidewalk chalk event, an electronic music night (the event he actually likes the most) and a Pillow Fight all in downtown Grand Rapids. Stevenson University invited Rob to come visit the school and share his vision and his passion with the SU community. I listened to Rob tell his story three times. Why should you care? Because Rob is a voice that should be heard … especially by young people. He talks about growing up, shy and quiet – definitely not a leader. He talks about his joy when people showed up at events but also his failures – like the Santa Hat / Candy Cane event where more than 10,000 people were invited, on Facebook, but only 60 showed up. He reflects on those failures and, instead of dwelling on them or letting them hold him back, he learned from them and moved on to bigger and better events. When he talks about the Zombie Walk, the part he’s most proud of is that they raised more than 8,000 cans goods for the local food back. He talks about the risks, the mistakes, but also the growth and successes. He talks about the fact that he hasn’t had any “trouble” at any of his events, no injuries, no problems – it’s why he can go to the Community and say things like, “Hi, we want to have six complete strangers stand basically on the edge of the roof of your building and throw off thousands of paper airplanes to people below – ok?” He talked about the 1,000 hours he put into the paper airplane event and that the Last signature was signed at about 4:35pm on the Friday before the date – without that signature they would have had to cancel. What doesn’t Rob talk about? Himself… he answers questions about himself when asked but the events aren’t about Rob and he will remind people of that. He did these events without corporate sponsorships – there aren’t name brands plastered across the airplanes, there weren’t zombies wearing some company’s logo – he doesn’t really even brand HIS brand, although he will say that he has turned down several companies and political groups that want him to “do” events for them. He says that is not who he is.
Rob spoke to some of our students. Some of the students didn’t get his message though – they just thought, “Who’s this kid and why does he think he can tell us about running events?” It makes me sad that they didn’t get what he was doing and what he has done. He helped with the first SU Pillow Case fight – it was not the big event we had hoped but I think it is an event that will be repeated and people had fun.
I think that students, especially student leaders, can learn something about vision, passion, tenacity, and attitude from Rob. He is a very nice young man who said that he started doing things because he and his friends wanted to do fun things that were not just sitting around someone’s basement getting drunk – That attitude alone is a good one. But when you add on all that he’s done – remember, he’s just 21. I definitely think he’s a voice that should be shared.
Finally – THIS will be the picture of Rob that I keep from his visit. After he spoke, in our theatre, to a group of faculty, staff, and students about creating a Fun Culture, there was a small reception in the theatre lobby. He spoke to several people but the draw of the piano was too much… as people were chatting he finally just went over, sat down and started playing. When I asked Rob what his dream job is – Music was his answer. And I know that someday he’ll find a way to make a living doing what he loves and sharing that passion with the world.