Fortunately, the teens won't have to make that choice. With the world competition this year at Michigan State University, they'll be able to attend the opening ceremonies at the contest Wednesday, return to TK Thursday for graduation and the after-party, then back to MSU for the rest of the weekend competition.
Cutlip, Jager Flikkema and Joey Lambert will join their teammates Braedon Halle, Emily Davidson, Haley Smith and Aaron Czarnecki as the high school team at the finals. TK will also send a strong middle school team made up of Christel Hoskins, Sam Mortan, Ellie Essenberg, Reese Verlinde, Annabelle Rickert, Lila Nelson, and Bennett Halle.
For Cutlip and Flikkema, this will be their third world finals. Flikkema has been in OM for about seven years. Lambert is marking his second world finals in only four years of competition. The teens agree OM has taught them many lessons they'll carry on with them in college and beyond.
"Worlds is kind of like the Olympics of the nerds, but it also kind of the Olympics of creativity. And the best part about worlds is we are surrounded by people from all over the world who think creatively like we do. It's the best possible experience we could have to be exposed to so many different cultures around the world," said Flikkema.
Lambert said the experience of OM is addicting. "Once you go to world finals, that's it. You're hooked. You want to do it forever," he said. "OM broadens your horizons and gives you different options. OM helps you be a problem solver."
OM teams form in early fall and work throughout the year to creatively solve a problem. There are no right or wrong answers in OM. "There are so many things that make a right answer and they all have to work together. It's not just one thing," said Cutlip. She said the team constantly revises their solution, sometimes even making changes just hours before a presentation. The final product, she said, generally bares little resemblance to where the team initially started.
"OM is not really like any other program out there," said Flikkema. "It combines every single after shool activity in one thing. Some people think it's like Science Olympiad or theater, but it's more than that even. There's even a sport aspect of it as a team and there's the math and science parts with building sets and solving problems. The theater part is acting out the skits and then there's the social aspect of it too. I get to hang out with my best friends for two hours after school."
Flikkema admits there is a certain "nerdy" stigma about OM team members. "But the weirdness and uniqueness is what makes OM special. You really get to make your own plate," said Flikkema. "And the best part is anyone can do it. You can't teach creativity. You have to unlock it."
Lambert didn't join OM until his freshman year of high school when he was recruited by Cutlip. "I had heard about it, but never felt I had enough self confidence to do it. OM has really built my confidence up a lot. It just helps you realize everyone matters and everyone brings something to the group."
Lambert was so nervous his first year in OM, he had his lines for the skit actually taped to a podium so he wouldn't forget them. Cutlip jokes the podium was shaking when he went to deliver his first few lines because he was so nervous. But the nervousness has now faded away.
The three seniors all said they hope to stay involved in some way with OM. Cutlip will attend Hope College to earn a teaching degree. She may compete at the college level, be a judge, or assist with local teams. Once she's a teacher, she said there's no doubt she'll get her students involved in OM.
Flikkema is helping his younger sister find her way in OM. He plans to attend GRCC with an emphasis on computer engineering. Lambert has goals of becoming an ER trauma nurse after attending Grand Valley State University. He hopes one day to work with Doctors Without Borders, eventually working his way to a position on the organization's board of directors.
Janis Fitzgerald, who has been the TK district OM coordinator for the past three years, will give up the leadership role after this year. She said she will always be an OM fan. Fitzgerald said she's grateful to all the people who worked to start the program at TK. "I see how much these kids gain from this experience and I see how much they grow. I'm so thankful for the people who started OM at TK and for all the community support we receive. Our teams all support each other too. Whenever one of our teams is up on stage performing, we fill the auditorium with support from our other teams. You don't see that in all the other schools. It's such a great thing for them all."