Why Giving Matters


On Why Giving Matters

Chris Border delivers a heartfelt speech in front of the old Math/Science building

We invite you to read Math & Computer Science Department Chair Chris Border’s thoughts on how your generosity and participation in the Overlake Fund serve as an inspiration and catalyst for all our current students and future generations of Overlake Owls. 

I don’t know who decided it would be a good idea to let a teacher say a few words, but I hope you don’t have anything else planned for the evening. Tonight’s lecture will be on Phase Transitions.

In a phase transition, matter goes from a solid to a liquid, or a liquid to a gas, or the reverse. Normally, when you add heat energy to an object – say a glass of water, the temperature of the water goes up. Nothing unusual there. This can go on for a long time – add heat and watch the temperature increase. During a phase transition, that added energy doesn’t raise the temperature, but works to change our water from ice to liquid, or liquid to steam. But such a profound change doesn’t come easily – it requires over 500 times as much energy to make that change compared to the energy required to change the temperature.

The transition doesn’t happen everywhere all at once, but at special locations within the substance called nucleation sites – places of exceptional concentration of energy. The result can be beautiful crystallization like snowflakes or frost ferns on windowpanes that begin as seed crystals (but let’s be honest, we could do with fewer of those this winter), or profoundly life-changing, like the steam that generates our electricity.

Institutions and people experience change in much the same way – when we put effort and resources into them, we can watch them grow and thrive. At its heart, this is my true joy as an educator – that sense of impact we have daily on how our students relate to the world around them. But to truly change – to experience a phase transition requires enormous energies, and it requires nucleation sites – people who inspire and lead, who are the catalyst for change on a grand and profound scale. I’m here to thank you and recognize that your generosity and vision are a powerful seed for Overlake, its teachers, and students.

And while I would never compare our students to snowflakes lightly (but you should hear them complain on a Monday morning), that process of change they undergo is just as unique as those crystals. When our students cross that stage after their time here, I see the choices, the stories that brought them to that point. I like to think there should be another person up there handing each of them a bumper sticker that reads “Handcrafted in the Pacific Northwest.” Those students, those handcrafted students, go on to become nucleation sites, acting as catalysts for communities far and wide, and so the legacy of the phase transition, inspired by you, which started this process never really ends. Unlike this speech. Thank you.

Chris Border
Math & Computer Science Department Chair