It all started with Patch Adams. You know, that Robin Wiliams movie from 1998. Have you seen it?
(Confession time: I actually haven’t seen it. BUT, it inspired one specific Penn Stater, and the domino effect began.)
The movie tells the story of Patch Adams, a real-life doctor who acted goofy, often dressing up like a clown, to make hospital patients feel better. This Penn Stater, Chad, felt inspired by this premise and bought himself… a clown nose. He wore this clown nose while walking to classes on the Penn State campus one day.
Silly. Bold, even. Something you probably never thought of doing… or ever WANTED to do.
As Chad looked around at the students passing by, he saw something. Their reactions. The way their lips curved up in a smile, or how they would nudge a friend and giggle. The effect was immediate, and happened to almost everyone. They became HAPPIER, because of Chad and his clown nose.
This all led to Chad creating a club, called the Clown Nose Club. It had a simple message in the beginning: YOU MATTER.
From there, the club grew. By the time I joined in 2014, well after Chad had graduated, the club had expanded to not only making the members know they matter, but ensuring that everyone on campus knew that they mattered. The club became centered around “Positive Social Risks.” Yep, you read that right. “Positive Social Risks.” We called these PSRs.
PSRs could be simple and small – umbrella taxis (walking students to class when it was raining and they didn’t have an umbrella) or standing outside our student center with a megaphone shouting compliments to strangers who passed. “I like your purple backpack!” “Those are shoes are AWESOME!” “I hope you have a great day and pass whatever exam you’re studying for!”
PSRs could also be bigger projects that took a few weeks to plan. One time, we created a GIANT envelope made out of fabric, had students sign it, and gave it to our beloved mailman on campus when he retired.
We also created a Candy Cart – we walked around with a shopping cart filled with free candy, notebooks, erasers, clown noses (video below). PSRs left everyone in a better mood – those doing them, and those receiving them.
I actually joined Clown Nose Club as a junior. This wasn’t too common. Many members would join their freshman year, in desperate search for just nice people to hang out with. Spoiler alert: a club centered around random acts of kindness is made up of some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. I’m actually still close friends with many of them. And I married one! So that worked out. 🙂
What piqued my interest with Clown Nose Club, and made me stay for the last two years of college, was the community it created. Not only did I always feel like I mattered when I was taking part in club meetings or PSRs, but I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone. I had to talk to strangers, had to be creative and think of new PSRs, and had to act goofy and embrace my inner clown!
The message that I took away after I graduated and threw my cap and clown nose in the air, is that we are all such deep, complex human beings, and often we don’t get to show that. We contain multitudes. Every person we pass on the street, or sit next to on the bus, or send an email to at work is an interesting person with so much to offer.
The ability to do something small and have a big effect on others… that ability exists everyday. Not many people realize they have this ability – this magical gift.
It was hard giving up Clown Nose Club. During those two years I was stretched and challenged so much. I lived outside my comfort zone more than in it! I had to consciously keep living this way post graduation. I”m happy to say I’ve done it.
-Join a local writing club: out of my comfort zone.
-Starting an indie press with friends: out of my comfort zone.
-Apply for grad school while working a full time job: out of my comfort zone.
-Audition for local theatre: out of my comfort zone.
-Joining Toastmasters: out of my comfort zone.
-Creating this website & blogging to the world! Out. Of. My. Comfort. Zone.
HOWEVER – each challenge has added so much to my life, and more importantly, introduced me to an incredible amount of people and new friends.
I want to leave you with this, dear readers. A challenge. (No, you don’t have walk around your town wearing a clown nose… though that would be awesome.)
I want you to think of some ways that you can leave your comfort zone and start connecting with others. Next time you meet someone, think of them as the most interesting person in the world who you can’t wait to learn more about. I want you to embrace your inner clown.
This was my Toastmasters Icebreaker speech, presented on Zoom in August 2020. This morning I won a district Evaluator contest (I move onto the next level in early April) and revisited my first speech in a fit of nostalgia. I decided to share as this week has been heavy, and it is important to remember all the good that still exists in this world. You. You are good, and you exist. You matter.