The tail of the T-shirts
Hi, I’m John Sievers, and I have a T-shirt problem. Luckily, this problem turned into a passionate exploration of Rochester.
T-shirts are trivial, but tributes never are, especially if they focus on aspects of our community that might sometimes be taken for granted. This is just one of the lessons I’ve learned over the past year.
In June of 2017, I launched my T-shirt journey during Rochesterfest. I wore a new shirt every day and posted pictures on social media as a way to show my support for those who keep our community creative, compassionate, and connected.
As a musician (yes, trombonists are musicians), I had quite a few local band shirts, and the beginning of what became the #rochestertshirttribute included many of these.
Somewhere in those first two weeks, I made the brilliant mistake of adding a clause to my daily post saying I’d keep wearing a shirt every day until I ran out. I certainly didn’t expect to be wearing shirts for 365 days, but sometimes ideas manifest in ways we can never foresee.
Soon, people were getting in touch with me and asking me to wear their shirts or suggesting others I should feature in the tribute.
I wore shirts for water skiing teams, for organizations that support individuals with disabilities, for creative artists, for marching bands, for nonprofits that work to support people recovering from addiction find employment.
I tried yoga poses, held owls, was introduced to alternative medicines like cupping. I met broom-ballers in spongy-soled shoes and learned about Rochester’s curling scene. I listened to heavy metal bands, found new flavors, and discovered human-sized inflatable hamster balls.
I learned about the health of the Zumbro watershed, watched roller derby in action, met radio DJs, tasted local brews, observed the proper way to fold a slice of pizza, shook hands with our city’s entrepreneurs, discovered social justice issues, and let my daughter shoot me with a bow and arrow. (Don’t worry, it was of the Nerf variety.)
Many of these experiences I would never have had without my silly project. As I look back at each shirt, it’s like a wearable journal.
The process of meeting with people passionate about their pursuits and learning about individuals and organizations integral to our community offered me new insight on what it means to be from Rochester, and beyond that, what it means to be human.
People have frequently asked me what I’ll do with all those T-shirts. Together, the shirts do make an impression. Laid flat one on top of another, a stack of 365 shirts towers almost to my belly button.
Ultimately, I’ve decided that I’ll wear them whenever I can. Each time I do, besides remembering the person that gave that specific shirt to me and representing Rochester, I hope I’ll continue to challenge myself to try new experiences and encourage others to follow their dreams.
I think there may be 365 more T-shirts out there representing the good in our community, but I hope you’ll be the one wearing them.
On day 366, I’ll finally get around to wearing the T-shirt that my wife Beth, and our kids, 10-year-old Eleanor and 8-year-old Abigail, gave me for Father’s Day in 2017, just before my tribute launched.
Of course, without a supportive family, the #rochestertshirttribute would have been impossible.
Perhaps the greatest lesson I learned from the #rochestertshirttribute is that recognizing the achievements of others is more rewarding for the one paying tribute than it is to the one being acknowledged for their accomplishment.
I challenge you to explore what our city has to offer, and I hope Rochester and all those who’ve supported the #rochestertshirttribute will accept my humble, heart-felt thanks for a year full of discovery.