Two thousand college students attended the first Passion conference in Austin, Texas in January of 1997. This year, twenty years later, 55,000 students were witnesses to a gathering with profound impact and staying power. Passion has seen astonishing growth. The venues have grown bigger. The organizers have aged. But from the first Passion conference in 1997 to Passion 2017, one thing has remained the same. Well, one thing—and lots of other things. First, the other things.
“It always rains at Passion” | That’s what the first door holder I encountered told me, outside of the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Door holders are volunteers, 2,500 of them, who arrive for duty a full twelve hours before the first night begins.
They’re harbingers of enthusiasm, smiling faces eager to serve and say, “We’re glad you’re here.” As if to highlight by contrast their cheery faces, it was indeed raining that first night. And there, dotting the sidewalks at every entrance to the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, ponchoed door holders who had no doors to hold offered wet high fives. Meanwhile, college students, hordes of them, stood in orderly queues in the food court at CNN Center, waiting out a rain shower that seemingly would not pass.
Students are still the focus | Speaking of that crowd in the CNN Center, it reminded me that, in the same way Calvin (and Hobbes, for that matter) never aged over the ten year run of the cartoon strip, Passion has kept a laser-focus on the very same age group that inspired the first gathering: college students. The 268 Generation has grown to include more than 20 million worldwide. And they’re adorably similar to their forebears from almost a generation before. There was a bearded, scraggly-haired young man in front of me in that orderly queue in front of Dunkin Donuts who could have been just as ideally suited for Passion 1997. His eyes lit up when he found the cheapest item on the menu, a six-pack of hash browns for only 69 cents. He ordered two, one for himself and one for his companion. Dinner, 268 Generation-style.
Students still care | Along that rain-soaked sidewalk, near a perky door holder, stood one of those fold-up canopies covering two large boxes labeled “SOCKS” and “TOWELS.” Those same college students who had to scrape together enough coins for Dunkin Donuts hash browns managed to fill those boxes with items vitally important to the homeless in the area. They’ve done so for years now, everywhere they gather. Moreover, they dig deeper to rally behind causes that matter, supporting the END IT Movement and through decades of generosity raising over 17 million dollars—real dollars, not pledges—for causes of poverty and social justice.
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