Returning to Brightvale University
Jacob swiveled the rag across his face, the stress of the day's work causing his skin to glisten with luminous beads of sweat. The brown Kougra then readjusted his Brass Gear Goggles and glanced at the crumpled issue of the Neopian Times laid out on the kitchen table of his Moltara apartment. His loft mate, Stealth, a silver Eyrie, was reading the comic section and chortling to himself.
"Seems you're having a good morning, at least," Jacob said as he melted some butter onto his toast.
"Oh, lighten up, Jacob. Relax a bit," Stealth quipped.
"It's not my fault that I'm the one that pays most of the rent... I swear, I never want to deal with fixing steam valves on engines again..." Jacob noticed a letter addressed to him sitting on the table. "And when were you going to tell me about this?" Jacob asked.
"Oh yeah, that's from the other day. You got some Neomail," Stealth said. "Haha, collaboration comics are always funny..."
"Oh my..." Jacob gasped.
"Something up?" Stealth asked, finally lifting his eyes from the comic section.
"It's from Brightvale University... I did my graduate studies there," Jacob explained.
"Asking for donations, I assume? Didn't they bleed you dry enough with the student loans?" Stealth joked.
"Oh, ha-ha. No, this is an invitation to... give a guest lecture?" Jacob once again grabbed the rag and made rigorous circles across his face.
"Hey man, if it's stressing you out that much, can't you just decline? You're becoming a nervous wreck again."
"It's not like that... I can't just disrespect my alma mater like that. The fact that they let me into their mechanical engineering program was a blessing in and of itself. Now they're inviting me to give a speech to the next generation... it'd be a slap in their face to say no," Jacob explained.
"Well, what does it say you need to do? Anything out of the ordinary?"
"It says I need to show off what I consider my greatest feat. Other than that, I need to detail the inventing processes, ways to use your degree, and just great things about the program in general."
Stealth smiled. "Oh, that isn't too har-"
"It's terrible! I'm going to look like an absolute fool, Stealth..."
"You're over-exaggerating again. Just relax," Stealth advised.
Jacob let out a long sigh. "I wish I could be as nonchalant as you."
"I'm just gonna try and clear my mind. I'll be heading out with H.O.O.T. pretty soon. Just remember to keep everything stable here, okay?" Jacob asked. The mechanical Petpet, an Albot, was in Jacob's opinion his greatest achievement.
"Glad to see you're going to do it," Stealth said.
"Not like I have much of a choice, honestly. Well, time to get this over with," Jacob sighed. It was going to be a long ride to Brightvale.
"Land ho!" the captain bellowed to the passengers. They weighed anchor at a dock in Brightvale as Jacob stumbled off the boat, a pale green hue developed around his otherwise brown fur. He still didn't have his sea legs, which definitely didn't help reduce his stress.
After a bit of walking and clearing his head, Jacob reached the golden gates of Brightvale University, which shone in the morning sunlight like a heavenly beacon, enough to make even the brightest light faerie reach the jealousy levels of a dark faerie. Being a public research facility, Jacob had practically no trouble getting in... it was remembering his way around campus that was the issue.
"Meet in the Brynn Auditorium at 9 AM Neopian Standard Time. Brynn Auditorium? That must be a new one. I only remember the Hagan Auditorium. Must've been a budget increase," Jacob said to his mechanical companion. He noticed a young Kacheek, red hair sitting atop her head and large spectacles encasing her otherwise beady eyes. "Excuse me, miss, but do you happen to know the way to the Brynn Auditorium?" Jacob asked. "I was asked to provide a guest lecture for the mechanical engineering class."
The Kacheek's eyes lit up. "Oh, your name's Jacob, right? I'm so glad you could make it. My pupils should be thrilled to hear of your endeavors."
(Ah, so this is the professor? She's... younger than I imagined. These times surely are progressive...) Jacob thought to himself, not wanting to offend the girl.
"You can just call me Katie," the Kacheek said. "So is this little guy your mechanical marvel you brought for the class?"
"Why yes, he is. This little guy was actually my, well, final exam. He earned me my diploma, in a sense," Jacob said quietly.
"Fascinating. Now if you'll follow me, your audience awaits." Jacob was starting to jitter. If this was anything like when he graduated, he could be speaking to close to fifty pets. "And it's a big one. We managed to fill all three hundred seats, and still more pets are showing up just to stand!" This was nothing like when he graduated.
"That sure is... a lot of pets," Jacob managed to squeak.
"You'll be fine, I'm sure. I told them all about some of your most well-known work from when you went here. They were quite impressed!"
"This isn't exactly helping, you know..." Jacob muttered. The duo finally reached the doors of the auditorium's back stage. A gigantic mechanical robot approached Jacob and Katie before stopping at their feet. He then began to raise the curtain for them.
"Good job, Tiny!" Katie cheered quietly. "Built him myself," she said to Jacob, smiling.
"Well, no time like the present to possibly ruin your future..." Jacob said as he took H.O.O.T. in his paws and walked to center stage.
The room itself was an architectural marvel. It took on a massive dome shape, with the levels of seating creating almost a bowl-like arrangement, with the stage in the center. The ceiling shone beautifully, as it was comprised entirely of pure Brightvale stained glass. The design featured the Brightvale coat of arms, as well as Brightvale University's logo.
"H-hello, everyone," Jacob said at last. The room's attendants sporadically gave quiet hellos in response. "It's great to be back here at Brightvale U. Go Fighting Symols!" The room grew uncomfortably silent. One voice rang out from the back.
"Dude, we're the Brightvale Wizards now. We've been that for the past few years."
Jacob turned about thirty shades of red. Two seconds into his lecture and he already made such an egregious error. "Ah, o-okay. Sorry about that." He cleared his throat. "Anyway, I graduated from this fine university roughly five or so years ago from the same mechanical engineering program that you all are enrolled in today. And I'm here to talk about some opportunities you may have!" Jacob noted cheerfully, with zero response from the audience. "In order to graduate, I had to create an invention that was functional, practical, and aesthetically pleasing. Thankfully, I still have it today. Here it is: an Albot, affectionately titled H.O.O.T., which is short for "Hours of Ornithological Tinkering." One hand rose from the crowd.
"So what does it do?"
"Well, this petpet performs daily tasks to assist its owner, such as cleaning, holding spare parts, and fetching newspapers. It's powered by a small internal gearbox, but sometimes it needs to be oiled, of course," Jacob tried to explain.
"So it's basically what the freshmen do in the Intro to Engineering class?"
Another critical wound to Jacob's already damaged pride. The creation that won him numerous academic and monetary awards was now considered a basic introductory-level project? He had to think on his feet to compose himself.
"Well, this brings me to my next point. For this next segment, I'd like each of you to take out a pencil, quill, or pen, and write down an idea on the spot, in an attempt to focus on feasibility, usefulness, and practicality, while also keeping aesthetics in mind. Use the next ten minutes to do so, and then we will discuss the exercise," Jacob explained. There. Now there was time for composure.
Jacob took H.O.O.T. and went to the back of the stage. H.O.O.T. shuffled away from Jacob due to a fierce dislike (well, protective programming) of getting wet, so Jacob took this as a cue to dry his eyes. Suddenly an orange Nimmo appeared beside him. He wore a light sweater and khakis, as well as a pair of thick goggles.
"Mr. Jacob, sir?" the Nimmo asked. "I finished my concept a bit early, but I just wanted to let you know how much of an inspiration you are to me."
Jacob was taken aback at this. "E-excuse me? How so?"
"Well," the Nimmo replied, "My father works in the Moltaran Obsidian Quarry. I'm not entirely sure if you remember him, but one day he brought in his Steam Wing pack for repairs. He really needed it due to a leg injury he had at the time, but I was helping him get there in the meantime. But when I saw how you so dedicatedly and precisely took it apart to find the one missing piece, and then reassembled it... it struck me. It was truly an art, and something I wanted to do. So I just wanted to thank you in person. Keep up the amazing work." The Nimmo gave a sheepish smile and awkwardly returned to his seat.
For the first time in that entire evening, Jacob crafted a genuine smile, a difficult invention to make indeed. He got up from the chair and moved back toward the center of the stage, with H.O.O.T. in his arms.
"The point of that last exercise was to show just how quickly an idea can come to us. However, some ideas out there take more time to make than others. But one thing that remains constant is the fact that opportunities in this field are growing all over Neopia. And even after you leave here, you'll continue to learn. If someone claims your idea is commonplace, just remember. You made it commonplace. You're the reason it's that way in the first place. Take it as the greatest compliment of all. That's what I learned today." Jacob smiled. "Because hey, if you can just make a positive difference in one person's life, I'd say your choices in life were worth it. This place has changed since I've been here, as you can tell. But speaking from experience, I know it's changed for the better. The sky is no longer the limit for the minds here. Go beyond that. Find your dream, and live it. That, my colleagues and friends, is the greatest advice I can give. Go Brightvale Wizards!" The audience erupted in an uproar of applause.
Soon, the auditorium cleared out and Jacob was left to relax for a bit. "You know, H.O.O.T., we may be obsolete in a few years, but hey, teaching is learning in a sense, right?" H.O.O.T. spun in a circle slowly. "Never change, H.O.O.T., never change." After a short silence, Katie appeared beside Jacob.
"That was quite a rousing speech you gave near the end. What inspired the sudden dynamism?" she asked.
"As corny as it sounds, it was one of those sudden moments of clarity. These students are the next generation, and they're doing great things here. Things I'd only dream of or deem science fiction when I went here. And if that's how far we've come, I want to see us keep going. Neopia's a better planet with these bright young minds in it, Katie. They deserved a good speech."
"I'm sure they appreciated it very much, Jacob. We'd love to have you visit on Alumni Nights, especially after this, if you're interested, by the way."
Jacob thought about the offer for a moment. "I may be able to make a few of them," he said with a smile. With that, he left the auditorium and took a long look at the rolling green hills on the horizon, beneath the golden canvas above, just like the old days. Some things never change.