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ASPE 2018 and Profession as Community

To be worthwhile a profession should be about more than just the work, more than about any amount of money to be made from the work.

As I write this I’m sitting in the lobby of the Omni Hotel, Atlanta, directly adjacent to the Georgia World Congress Center, which has just played host to the American Society of Plumbing Engineers’ Convention & Expo 2018.

It was great walking the Expo floor to see the latest and greatest that manufacturers had to offer. It was nice to drop in on various technical symposiums to hear about new developments in technology or system design. But, for me, the part of this show that made the biggest impact was the Award Ceremony and Breakfast held Monday, Oct. 1st.

The keynote address was by Derreck Kayongo, founder of the Global Soap Project. As a young immigrant from war-torn Uganda, Kayongo discovered that hotels routinely threw away their old soap – it totals about eight hundred million bars over the course of a year. He invented a process to kill the bacteria on used soap, and now re-purposes it for countries in need, places where something as simple as good hygiene can have life-or-death consequences.

He attributes his success to the power of observation, guided always by the principles of service, education, leadership and faith. It was a powerful message from an engaging speaker. But (like a lot of keynote speeches I’ve heard) I was puzzled why they would bring in someone from outside the plumbing industry.

It becomes easy to forget the human element.

It was as the breakfast went on and the awards were handed out I realized that Kayongo, with his message, had been an ideal choice. Often, in search of new stories and articles for the pages of CONTRACTOR Magazine, I focus on either the technical side (system design, codes, new tools and so forth) or on the business side (say, marketing or hiring). I imagine most of the people in the skilled trades divide their time between the technical side and the business side.

And it becomes easy to forget the human element. That a profession, to be worthwhile, should be about more than just the work, more than about any amount of money to be made from the work. It should be about giving meaning to our lives. About giving back to our communities. About passing something of value – be it a well-running business or a body of knowledge or a system of values – on to the next generation.

That spirit of higher purpose was echoed in the awards themselves: The Kenneth G. Wentink Award for Excellence; the Distinguished Service Award; the Peter E. Warshaw Service Award; the ASPE Humanitarian Award and more (look for a complete list in the next issue of CONTRACTOR).

That spirit animated everyone at the podium – everyone in the room. ASPE CEO Billy Smith, in giving thanks to the Board of Directors for their hard work praised their “Passion, leadership and consistency to make life better for us all.” 

Incoming ASPE President Carol Johnson pledged to do her best to build the association. “All of these people inspire me,” she said, referring to past Presidents, “All of these people made a path for me to follow.”

Outgoing President Mitch Celemente, visibly moved as he gave his farewell, said, “It’s been a great journey… I’ve had the opportunity to meet many outstanding people who’ve had an impact on my life and my career.”

It was a great opportunity to stop and look at the bigger picture. Something we all should do from time to time.

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