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Thank you, An Event Apart

By Jason Grigsby

Published on January 11th, 2023

An Event Apart 2015 and 2016 lunch pails featuring illustrations of Jeffrey Zeldman and Eric Meyer in the style of the Flintstones and Blues Brothers.

After seventeen years, An Event Apart (AEA) is no more. I know all things must end, but this one hit me hard. It’s been a couple of weeks, and I’m still thinking about what AEA meant to me, and how much I will miss it.

By the time I presented at my first AEA in 2013, I had several years of public speaking experience. Still, An Event Apart made me nervous. I was keenly aware that speaking at AEA was a privilege. The people who spoke at the conference were the best. The attendees were fabulous.

This was the big leagues. I was afraid I would screw it up.

My first talk at AEA documented by Jeffrey Zeldman, used under Creative Commons license.

And I did. Sort of. The feedback was the audience enjoyed my talk, but people didn’t feel like it was applicable to their day-to-day jobs. I worried I wouldn’t get invited back.

But, I was already scheduled to give the same talk in another city. I took the feedback to heart and improved the presentation. I remember Jeffrey Zeldman giving a standing ovation after the second talk. My hard work paid off.

Rehearsing while blindfolded.

I spoke at An Event Apart every year since 2013. It was always a privilege to be invited. I never took it for granted.

Over the last decade, I experienced things I never anticipated both on and off the AEA stage. Every year, I pushed myself to do something new in my talks—which is how I ended up in a used tuxedo, performing magic tricks to illustrate web form UX.

I fondly remember visiting the Smithsonian’s African History Museum with Eric Meyer; eating Salt Lick BBQ with Luke Wroblewski, Josh Clark, and Derek Featherstone; seeing Hamilton with Mini Markham, Val Head, and Dave Rupert; and many late nights chatting with attendees and speakers alike. The adventures are too numerous to list.

Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture exterior with the Washington Monument peeking over the top
Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture with the Washington Monument peeking over.
Hamilton sign outside the CIBC Theatre in Chicago
Hamilton sign outside the CIBC Theatre in Chicago.

I brought our oldest child with me on two trips. They listened to the talks and interacted with other speakers. Last night, they told me they want to study computer science in college. I have no doubt that An Event Apart played a significant role in that direction. They frequently asked when they could attend AEA again. Telling them that AEA is over was difficult.

My oldest child and I at An Event Apart Chicago, 2018. Photo by Jen Robbins.

An Event Apart became my family away from home. I eagerly looked forward to seeing what other speakers would be speaking at the same event. And I knew I was guaranteed to see my friends behind the scenes, Toby, Marci, Stephen, Mike, and of course, Eric and Jeffrey.

That’s the part I’m going to miss the most. Even if I was never invited to be a speaker again, I knew I could buy a ticket, hop on a plane, watch mind-blowing talks, and see some of the people I cherish most. I don’t know when that will happen again, and that depresses me.

But at the same time, I am so grateful for the fond memories, the opportunities, and the dear friends that An Event Apart brought into my life. It was truly a one-of-a-kind conference, and I want to thank Jeffrey, Eric, and everyone involved for being a big part of my life for nearly a decade.

Who’s up for a reunion?

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