Our event planning team were the first to arrive. They greeted a convoy of trucks that had left Germany a couple days earlier, carrying dozens of LCD screens, computers, and other equipment. Local Russian staff showed up and started unpacking. Floor displays, chalk walls, showcase booths. Rooms for staff with tables and chairs, printers and coffeemakers. Rooms for press, rooms for photographers, rooms for medical teams. Across town at the Alexandrinsky Theatre, our executive producer supervised the delivery of scenic elements for the stage. Two entire dance troupes shipped us their costumes, props, and backdrops. Technicians, sound engineers, and camera crews turned up, got badges, and set to work.

The Imagine Cup core team arrived next. We flew from Seattle via Amsterdam and Frankfurt, arriving bleary and already hard at work. We tossed our suitcases in our rooms, got dinner, and set up shop in our workspace. We toured the event space, still under construction. Random tourists from the hotel had been wandering in amidst the construction crew so we turned off the elevators for that floor -- great for operational security and safety, a little tiring to march up and down the stairs. Finally we fell into our beds, exhausted.

The next day global Microsoft staff started to arrive. They came from seventy-one countries, here to chaperon their teams and help them overcome language barriers and hotel procedures. Many of our student teams have never traveled overseas before and we had staff at the airport -- some dressed as bears! -- to greet them, help them through customs, and get onto the shuttles to the hotel. These Microsoft staff are from all over the world but they are an extended family. Several times a year they meet up at one international conference or another. Jan from Germany came, and Sara from Venezuela, and Susan from Canada. As the day turned to evening, and our briefing meetings ended, we met in the lobby and embraced, all broad smiles and good cheer to once again be among these people.

I missed much of this evening. I was across town at the Alexandrinsky working with our executive producer on some aspects of the awards show. When I left, having skipped lunch, I thought I'd find a nearby restaurant in downtown St. Petersburg for dinner. But I forgot about the White Nights. When I came out of the theatre, I was bathed in warm afternoon sunshine. The city was beautiful, clouds like a Howard Pyle painting drifting in the sky, and the crowds of people strolling along Nevsky Prospect. Every block I saw young couples kissing. It wasn't until I reached the restaurant and found it closed that I checked my watch and realized it was almost eleven o'clock at night. The sun in July fools you, it stays up late and rises early, and eleven o'clock feels like four o'clock. I found another restaurant, had a very late dinner, and returned to the hotel. There I found my friends, people I've worked with for the past year but never met in person. We sat up late in the lobby, talking and joking, swapping stories, excited to be here.

Then you came.

You the students, the dreamers, the visionaries. From around the world, by plane and by train, toting computers and robots and equipment. You've brought your ambition and your passion. You came not just to compete and to win but to put a stake in the ground that says: this is my life. This is what I do with it. This isn't just where I am; it's where I'm going.

Today I get to meet you. In the halls, in the restaurant, in the lounge, in the briefings. On the steps out front for the group photo, when the streamers fly and the photographer snaps. I get to meet all of you.

It'll be an honor just to imagine what you'll become.

John Scott Tynes
Imagine Cup Competition Manager
Microsoft Academic Programs