RootsTech 2018 Wrap Up: The Keynote Sessions

This post is a bit overdue. Okay, way overdue. Because life, bronchitis, a full time job and young kids sometimes get in the way of best laid plans! To be honest, I have also been quite intimidated thinking about all the things I need and want to include in this post!

I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend RootsTech this year thanks to winning a registration giveaway by RootsTech Ambassador Melissa Corn Finlay, of Boundless Genealogy. I cannot proceed without thanking her again!

The conference was held in Salt Lake City, February 28th – March 3rd. It was an incredible four days of keynote speakers, breakout sessions and networking with the many incredible genealogists I have become friends with online over the last two years.

There is no way I can cover everything, so I will highlight my favorite elements that made this an incredible trip, beginning with the keynote speakers.

Keynote Sessions 

The caliber of keynote speakers alone makes RootsTech worth attending. This year’s line up was one of the main reasons I wanted to attend. Here, I will highlight my favorite speakers and their messages.

Steve Rockwood, CEO – FamilySearch

The opening keynote general session featured FamilySearch CEO, Steve Rockwood, who gave a heartfelt talk on the theme of this year’s RootsTech: Connect. Belong. This presentation really resonated with me, perhaps because of our current political and world climate.

He placed great emphasis on the inherent human need for connection and belonging, stating that “family transcends all borders,” and that “when we connect and belong to each other, we treat each other differently.” These ideals are partly why I am so drawn to genealogy. I believe it has the power to connect people in a way nothing else does.

Brandon Stanton, Creator/ Photographer -Humans of New York

Brandon Staton Intro

Brandon Stanton, creator and author of the wildly popular and thought provoking Humans of New York Facebook page and best selling books, was the keynote session on Thursday morning. His photos have captured the humanity of people from New York to Syria, from the incarcerated in a US prison, to the families in a pediatric cancer ward. You simply cannot be touched by his work depicting people’s daily triumphs and struggles.

“Following your dreams correctly is nothing but hard work.” Brandon Stanton

He spoke of his own story; of addiction, climbing the corporate ladder of success and then falling off that ladder. He spoke of refocusing what was important to him in life, what it meant to be successful, and moving to New York with just an idea and a camera.  He stated that what we accumulate is NOT the greatest commodity in life, be it money, a nice house, fancy cars or other possessions. He argued that the greatest commodity is the actual time we waste accumulating those things, especially when it is done to impress others and not because it gives us any personal satisfaction or happiness. He was quick to point out that pursuing what makes you happiest is not without struggle stating, “Following your dreams correctly is nothing but hard work.” This completely resonated with me as I work to balance a career, a family, and also my genealogy avocation.

Stanton was also a perfect choice as keynote to continue with the theme, Connect. Belong. He recalled the many people he’s met while taking photos across the globe, and how on an individual level, be they a Syrian refugee or a person on the streets of New York City, that they all want the same things in life. It matters not what religion, race, creed or sexual orientation one is, we are all human and should be afforded the same respect and consideration.

Scott Hamilton- Olympian & Sports Commentator

Scott Hamilton

Olympian Scott Hamilton needs no introduction. His ice skating career, role as a sports commentator for the Winter Olympics, cancer survivor and advocate, has made him a recognizable figure. His personal life, however, was not as well known to me. During the Friday morning keynote session, he told the story of his adoption at six weeks old by a couple who had struggled to have children of their own. He spoke about his upbringing and the role each parent, both college professors, played in his life. His father, was strict and disciplined, but his mother was nurturing and kind. And while he was adopted, he was often told he looked like his mother. “That’s because you always resemble the ones that love you most,” he stated. “My mother was the center of my universe.”

Hamilton suffered from a mystery illness as a child, and was in and out of doctors offices and hospitals. This became a stressful ordeal for his parents, and someone suggested taking him to an ice skating class so they could go take some time for themselves. Thus began his exposure to ice skating, and ultimately his involvement in competitions on the national and world levels. He fondly recalled the encouragement and financial sacrifices of his parents in his pursuit of ice skating, even when he wasn’t very good and didn’t take it as seriously as he should. It was his love for his mother and her fight with cancer that ultimately caused him to begin to take it more seriously and put him on a path to success.

“You always resemble the ones that love you most.”                                                     Scott Hamilton

In addition to the influence of his parents, he spoke about the other people who became part of his life and family. He had many mentors and financial supporters who served as parental figures when his own parents couldn’t be there. He spoke about his wife, Tracie, “the greatest gift he’s ever received.” Their first child together was the first time he had ever laid eyes on someone he shared the same flesh and blood with, and he shared the power of that moment. Additionally, he shared that he felt “God was directing our steps,” as they had a second son and then adopted two children from Haiti. “I was given the incredible gift of a family.”

Hamilton concluded his message by calling for people to honor their past, “because without our past, our present has no meaning, and our future is worthless.” He continued, “Life is what we make it, but it is also the life that we’ve been given that comes with incredible responsibility to make the next generations’ choices and opportunities better than the ones that we were given.”

For more of Scott Hamilton’s story, check out his autobiography, Finish First: How Winning Changes Everything..

In addition…

While these were my favorite of the keynote sessions, historian Dr. Henry Louis Gates and Mexican pop-rock singer and songwriter Natalia Lafourcade, also had incredible sessions. Indeed, Lafourcade left many teary eyed with a moving performance of her music. Dr. Gates is always one of my favorite people to listen to about genealogy and anything history related, from the Civil Rights movement, to his PBS production on Africa.

To watch any of these brilliant key note sessions, visit the RootsTech 2018 Videos page. I have watched them again since returning as I find the messages inspirational and uplifting. I believe you will too.

Next post: Breakout Session Highlights, Vendor Hall Fun and Meet Ups!

Copyright © 2015-2018 Beth Wylie and Life in the Past Lane. All rights reserved.

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