July 25, 2009
Colorado Springs CO
Speech by Mr M (Prof Stephen B Maurer), Academic Director
Parents and Students,
At the opening session, I told the students what I hoped they would experience at MathPath. They did. Let me review that, and extend it.
MathPath was the first national camp exclusively about mathematics and exclusively for middle-school aged students. It was founded by George Thomas, after he had already founded a high school age math camp.
Now there are competing camps - other exclusively math, national camps that accept middle-school age kids. But MathPath remains unique because of the variety of mathematics and the amount of fun.
Some of you are very interested in math competitions. That's a good way to get hooked into mathematics, and the competing camps that accept middle school age kids emphasize competition preparation. But professional mathematicians don't do competitions. They can get prizes for research, and sometimes for teaching and for writing mathematics. So bringing you into the real world of mathematics must take you beyond competitions.
We do have competition practice here, Al Lippert's MathCounts courses, my AMC courses, and Jenny's AIME courses. But MathPath does much more.
We have foundation courses - courses on basic mathematical concepts that aren't part of the North American school curriculum, such as number theory and induction. We have more advanced special topics courses, such as Dr V's Taming the Torus and Winston's Game Theory. And we have courses where you see active mathematicians at work, for instance, John Conway explaining some of his many original ideas and Prof Su explaining his work on fair division.
Add to that our month long courses on history of mathematics and on writing mathematics and you get a very broad view of the mathematical enterprise.
And that is not all. Let me mention the Problems of the Day, run by Al Lippert. These are thinking out of the box problems. They are rarely solved by traditional mathematical techniques; they usually need some sort of clever special idea. But many problems in life as well as mathematics need clever special ideas, so practice in looking for them is very valuable - as well as great fun.
So that's an overview of what we do in the official academic program of the camp.
But that still is not all. There is the unofficial part of the program - you students talking to each other. Sometimes you talk math to each other, say in the Loomis 3rd floor lounge in the evening and early morning, sometimes you just kid around. But as someone said in last year's survey , this is a camp where it is ok to be a geeky math kid because there are lots of geeky math kids. As a result, you do all sorts of things that geeky kids like to do. Among these are all the student run games and tournaments - chess, Set, other card games, pool, table tennis, but also soccer, swimming, pickelball. And then there are the great trips - cycling, hiking, and most of all (audience answers) rafting. Throughout, you have a great sense of humor. I particularly noted the daily dual between Kip trying to get out important information in a timely fashion and you guys, obsessed with wanting to know everything in detail in advance, trying to sink him with questions before he has said 2 words. Perhaps we need a new contest - the really bad questions to Kip contest.
The point is, through your geeky natures bouncing off each other, you create a unique spirit and have a lot of fun.
You've made a lot of new friends, from around the country and the world. And today, with email, instant messaging, cell phones, and online forums as on the Art of Problem Solving, you can keep up with them until you see them again - at this camp next year, or other camps, or at college, or later in life.
So keep thinking back on what happened here. A few years from now, even things that that didn't seem so important here may stand out in ways you don't now suspect.
I've really enjoyed being here with you, and I'm proud to have played a role in making it all happen. Thank you.
Speech by the Executive Director, Dr George R. Thomas
Parents, students, and fellow staff members:
Each year I long for this one night.
I wish I could compare myself to the Cereus plant that blooms for just one night - at the end of July in the desert areas in southern United States - and spreads its sweet fragrance over a wide area. This is my eighth such night with this camp.
A good camp is like a fine restaurant. In the front you see beautiful waiters in neat dresses serving patrons - food exquisitely arranged on fine china. But the kitchen is a different view. The cooks scramble to meet orders. And many dishes get dropped there. It is a pandemonium of smoke and noise which nevertheless keeps putting out the ordered dishes. MathPath's kitchen is ruled by Mr. M, the grand chef under whose orders the cooks cook and the waiters offer menus of the day or of the week to patrons. Then there is the Manager, Mr. Kip Sumner whose imperious voice holds sway over even the grand chef.
We are on better financial ground today than in the years past due to the reforms proposed by Mr. M and helped on by Mr. L. We are grateful. Due to their combined work, this became the first year we operated in the black. This gives hope that the remaining portion of our accumulated deficits from the early years will disappear in about three years.
I am also happy that my work in selecting counselors from the long list of applicants has paid off. I believe we have the best group of counselors in our history.
I am always emotionally tethered to the parents of the campers. The camp exists because they trusted to send their child to the camp. I thank you. I thank Colorado College for working smoothly with us. Clearly, having us on your campus is good for you more than in the money it brings. But we are happy here. We like the safety, the food, the dorms, the library, the manicured lawns, and the ample facilities for athletics.
MathPath is like a passenger train whose engine was started only a while back. Bogies in the front have begun moving. The ones in the rear are still. But in time the rear bogies too will begin moving. Yes, those who can not afford the camp should be able to attend so long as they can qualify. When that happens, this train is in movement.
The people in this train are a very special group. They will be getting off in a very few locations called math, science, and the like. It is easy to advise what academic path you should take after you get off. The path must be to the most selective universities and colleges, not only for good employment prospects but also to get a professor or mentor who has done significant work in the field you will be interested in. For such a professor not only has a better view of the whole terrain but also a feeling for questions that are significant enough and that you can work on.
MathPath is the camp most important for your life that you will attend, for you are here at close to the end of impressionable age. We caught you just in time to give you not only peers and great professors but also pointed you to write mathematics the proper way, given you a historical perspective of the subject, and a stronger and a wider foundation.
I hope the camp will give you a wider view of life as well. Understand that we are in a set up, where to a great degree we are like floatsam in a stream! Competition and degrees of success are characteristics of its current. But, while success is sweet and while failure makes one sad, only the ones who can not think deeply will take all this too seriously. Life controls you when you take its game - a game imposed on you - too seriously. Surely it is great fun to be the best you can be, to push your limits. But all this have no permanence.
Perhaps the best course of action for life is to have fun that will last longer - acting responsibly in one's endeavors, not casting aside moral commitments, such as family obligations. And working hard to realize your potential.
Parting is sad, but this very parting is a beginning, a beginning of communication, camaraderie, and even collaboration made possible by your new personal network that grew here over the past month.
Now go! Create your destiny, but never deny anyone in advancing yours; and always give more than you take!
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