The only sure thing about life is that it throws unexpected situations your way. Some of those are good, and others not so good—what’s most important is how we choose to deal with them. Seventeen-year-old Rob of Liverpool, NY has had his fair share of unexpected events, but they have been an integral part of who he is today, and who he hopes to become.

Rob acknowledges that growing up wasn’t always easy. He was adopted at birth, and his first adopted mother died a tragic and untimely death in an accident when he was 9. What he likes to focus on, though, are the positive things that help make the memories of his early childhood pleasant ones. He was adopted again, and says the transition was made as smooth as possible by his new parents. Rob will never forget the birthday party thrown for him at Chuck E. Cheese’s when he turned 10. In his words, he felt “like [he] was on top of the world”, and “the luckiest, most important kid that ever lived.” It still hurts to talk about his early childhood, but Rob hopes that other kids might find comfort in knowing that even in the face of tragedy, it gets better.

When he entered high school, Rob was eager to become involved in as many extra-curricular activities as possible. One of those activities he became associated with was the mock trial team. For those who are unfamiliar, mock trial is the activity of learning about the court system, and involves acting out trials in a sort of “mock” or “make believe” setting. This was the first team to be active in about a decade at Liverpool High School, and Rob is proud to have been a part of the club’s resurgence. He is proud, too, that his team could keep up with the older, more seasoned teams in his surrounding area. At one of his last competitions, the sponsor of the opposing team said, “Wow! You really rattled our prosecution!” Rob doesn’t wish to go into the field of law after high school, but mock trial boosted his confidence and planted the seed for his love of public speaking.

Surprisingly, the Robotics Club contributed even more to Rob’s passion for public speech. Roped in as a freshman by his friends, Rob had no idea what he was doing at first, but eventually caught on. The engineering aspect of robotics was not his forte, but the club has a communications division in which Rob played a vital role. Through advertising, publicity, and even graphic design, Rob helped his team win a $7,000 sponsorship from a local car dealership. Along with the money, the Robotics Club received mentorships from local coders and engineers who helped with the programming and construction of the robots the team entered into contests. One of these resulting machines was awarded the prize of “Most Well Designed Drive Train” in a regional competition. The team also won 2nd place in this competition, thanks in part to Rob’s ability to use his gift of communication.

Rob enjoys talking to and helping people at every opportunity he gets. His favorite place to do this is at his after-school job as a cashier at Wegman’s, a regional New York grocery store chain. His most memorable experience occurred just last winter, on a very cold and snowy evening, when the store was almost empty. Rob was working the express lane, and a man came through, moving slowly and clearly very sad, buying supplies for his home. They had a short conversation, and the customer told Rob that his wife had recently passed away, and that he was doing his best to adjust to being alone. Rob sympathized, and told the man you have to get your feelings out, whatever they may be. He said bottling up your feelings only makes things worse, and that there are people in the world who care and will help in whatever way possible. The man seemed to cheer up a little. He thanked Rob for his time and words of advice, and left the grocery store in a better mood.

Now on the brink of his high school graduation, Rob is looking forward to the next steps of his life. Thanks to mock trial and the robotics club, it’s obvious to Rob that he wants to explore public speaking and public relations. He’s already taken Communications courses at a local community college, and plans to continue that path into university. When asked where he sees himself in 10 years, Rob says that he hopes to live in a large city working in public relations for a private organization or non-profit. He also hopes to be in a relationship and to have a pet husky. Looking back, Rob admits that the road has not always been easy. He now understands that the unexpected is to be expected. Who could have ever guessed that he would develop such a passion for speech by working with robots?