Consider the following: Michael de Groot is a middle school student who wants to be a scientist and talks constantly about his idol, Bill Nye. He never thought that one day he would be able to actually meet Bill in person. Michael thinks Bill is smart and funny, and he regularly uses phrases from the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” show in conversation. Michael is so enthusiastic about science that his parents often have to remind him that his bedroom is not the best place to conduct experiments.
One spring day Michael’s sister Kelly, a student at Villanova University, noticed a classmate had posted a picture of herself posing with Bill Nye. She found out the student had an internship on the United States House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, and that was how she met the scientist. Kelly casually commented how much her brother loved Bill Nye, and they struck up a conversation. The kind student offered to contact someone related to the committee to see if they could possibly set up a meeting between Michael and Bill. Kelly was grateful for the offer, but wasn’t sure that it would actually come to be and didn’t want to get Michael’s hopes up.
Months went by with no word. The week of Thanksgiving, 2014, Kelly was home on break and unexpectedly received a text from her classmate. She was told that that Bill, as the CFO of the Planetary Association, was going to be in Washington, DC soon to give a presentation. The only time he had available was 1:30PM on the following Tuesday. The family was thrilled and scrambled to make arrangements. Since it would be on a weekday Michael would have to miss school, but hey, it was for science! And SCIENCE RULES. Lisa, Michael’s mother, also wanted to make sure ahead of time that the scientist knew about her son’s Autism. She inquired in an email and was reassured that yes, Bill knew, and they proceeded with planning their visit.
“We were so surprised that such a thing was happening and that we were going to see him,” says Lisa, “but we didn’t assume that it would be a one on one with him.” The family actually didn’t really know WHAT to expect, and that can be tough on a young person with Autism. Lisa had tried her best to prepare Michael for whatever might happen that day by reading a social story with him beforehand. When the day finally arrived they enjoying seeing the Dirksen Senate Office Building and had a nice lunch together as a family. They were shocked to then be ushered into a private conference room for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.
Michael had been very nervous before the meeting began, but his mother shared that he became amazingly calm once Bill Nye walked in… after his initial gasp of happiness. Michael then introduced himself using a phrase they had practiced the previous day, “Hello, Mr. Nye. It’s nice to meet you. I’m Michael de Groot.” They spent the next twenty minutes or so talking and taking pictures. Strange situations and meeting new people can be challenging for people on the Spectrum, but his mom said, “We were so proud of Michael who was polite, patient, and acted like a mature young man!”
Michael showed Bill some drawings that he had created to give the scientist, including his elaborate concept for a new “Nye Science Lab” (pictured at the top of the post). Michael later stated that was his “fave” part of the visit. Michael’s mother says that he is “very focused on what will happen in the future,” and the design was actually for a FUTURISTIC lab. Bill seemed impressed by Michael’s creativity.
Bill noticed Michael was wearing a lab coat and offered to sign it, and Michael thought that was incredibly awesome. Bill also gave Michael a Planetary Society pin and it was proudly pinned to the autographed lab coat.
After some time a second fan entered the room, a young adult carrying a copy of Bill’s latest book, and visited with the scientist and Michael’s family for about ten minutes. When their time was up the de Groots were surprised when Bill walked straight into a room full of people waiting to hear him speak about Mars exploration. They assumed he had met with them during some down time. Michael’s mother was incredibly grateful that Bill so generously took the time to help make her son so happy, especially in the midst of such a busy schedule. Michael’s family was then invited to attend the lecture given by Bill since it was open to the public. They declined because they suspected that their son had enough excitement for one day and probably wouldn’t be able to sit through it.
When it was all over Michael proclaimed, “This was the best day EVER!” Blissfully exhausted, he then slept most of the way home… a rare occurrence.
WOW. There are so many reasons I love this story. I love that Michael’s sister Kelly spoke up for him, and that the kind Villanova student took the initiative to try and set up this meeting. I love that Bill said yes, because celebrities are busy and not all agree to meet with fans. I especially love that he agreed to do so knowing that Michael had Autism. I say that because some people are not comfortable spending time with others who they see as “different”. They feel awkward and don’t know what to say, or even look down on them with disdain. I also love that Bill didn’t agree to meet Michael for the sake of publicity. Aside from the family’s cameras there was no one from the media present. Bill simply did it to help bring a smile to the face of a young fan. But I guess that’s just Bill Nye the Science Guy. Or should I say Bill Nye the FRIENDLY Guy. Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!
Update: It is exciting that Michael’s wonderful story is getting so much attention! We hope it made you smile like it did us! A local media station even asked the family to do a news story about their experience. You can read the story by WRIC here, and see Michael talk more about science and his incredible day in the video below.
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