The World Record Attempt That Never Happened

The Imagine RIT Planning Committee met after the inaugural festival to brainstorm “big ideas” for the future. This meeting was fun. Typical brainstorming rules applied so no idea was too silly or impractical. One of the ideas that I contributed was that we should attempt to break a world record during the next festival. I remembered many years ago when Orientation tried to break a record with buckets and water (the details are fuzzy). Finding a record that was innovative or unique to RIT would be a good way to build community and excitement for Imagine RIT.

Following the meeting Barry Culhane, Chair of the Festival, asked Gerry Buckley to look into finding a Guinness World Record that would involve NTID. By early September Gerry found a record that he thought we could break. At the time, the most people performing sign language simultaneously to the same song was 4,796. The record was established at the Beijing Institute of Technology in Zhuhai City, Guangdong Province, China, on January 10, 2007.

Gerry was confident that we could get 5,000 people in one place to sign the Imagine RIT theme song, “Can You Imagine?” There were still many questions. I agreed to look into where we would fit 5,000 people.

The Gordon Field House wasn’t an option because we had already begun planning to house approximately 50 exhibits in this location. I learned that the Ritter Ice Area can hold 3,000 people when the ice isn’t in use. The Clark Gym holds even fewer. This meant the event would have to be outside. An outdoor event in Rochester in the spring requires a rain plan. Our plan would have to include a tent for 5,000 + people. Those that remember when the Commencement Ceremony was held in U-Lot will be able to picture what a tent that holds 5,000 people looks like. It’s big!

By mid-October we learned that the actual process for attempting to break an official Guinness World Record (GWR) is complex. We had to submit an application to GWR to obtain the details behind the record. While waiting to hear back from GWR we read online that a school system in England had attempted to break the record. Their plan was to link over 18,000 individuals in various schools via satellite.

We heard back from GWR with a seven page document of requirements for attempting to break a record in general and a more specific document that pertained to breaking the “Sign Language – Mass Participation” record. We learned that we would have to obtain signatures from every participant, both before and after the attempt, and have a qualified judge–one for every 200 participants to evaluate the signing of each participant to ensure accuracy. I determined that while breaking the record itself may take less than 3 minutes, ensuring we follow all the rules could push the entire process upwards to two hours! We also learned that the England record attempt was still being processed and that we wouldn’t know for a while if they held the new record.

I secretly started to wish I had never suggested breaking a record and hoped that the students in England were successful. The effort behind organizing Imagine RIT is difficult in itself. After learning about what it would take to pull this off – taking two hours out of a seven hour event to attempt to break a record didn’t seem practical.

We heard from GWR that the English did break the record and we immediately decided that Imagine RIT was not the appropriate venue for attempting to break this record.

Fortunately, we had two big ideas going for us at that point and we were able to focus our attention on Dr. Destler’s Green Vehicle Challenge. RIT’s President had come up with the idea to challenge the RIT Community to build a vehicle that would use less energy than his electric bike while circumventing a three mile route on campus. This idea proved to be a great one and perhaps a topic I’ll blog more about in the future. In the meantime you can watch a video that documents the excitement of the Green Vehicle Challenge here:


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