I imagine a lot of assumptions were being made by the two-hundred-something high school students who watched Kyle Binder walk out on stage. He wore nothing but a pair of form-hugging short shorts and a cardboard cutout of the number thirty-six attached to his torso. This followed a roof-raising rap performance by Binder, where he spit original rhymes about the ways mathematics was integral to his soul. At the conclusion of the night, he’d be crowned “Mr. LNHS”, champion of our school’s annual mock male beauty pageant.
Who was this guy sporting his ACT score bareback? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t question what Kyle was thinking. Whether out of envy or annoyance, I felt there was just something about his apparent endorsement of his own awesomeness I failed to appreciate. At first glance, jealousy seems like a fair motive for me. Binder had long cultivated the reputation of a genius do-gooder. Not inclined to the spotlight, he instead spent his younger years winning national bible recitation contests and completing two levels of calculus before he could legally drive a vehicle. However, the latter half of high school had been a blossoming period for Binder: elected to Homecoming Court, aced the ACT (almost the SAT), chosen as a National Merit Scholar, received a full ride to college, competed as a three-sport varsity athlete (two of which he was the captain of), and before anyone knew it, he’d become a fixture in our school’s collective consciousness, synonymous with all things “genius”.
Despite all of this, I still don’t believe envy was a factor in my occasional annoyance with his public acceptance of his reputation. No, if anything it was ignorance. A failure on my end to keep up with what was going through my friend’s ever-racing mind. Binder operates on a different scale than most people, and if you don’t keep calibrated with him, you miss out on the most brilliant aspect of his multi-dimensional character: awareness.
Many of our peers failed to recognize the subtle and intentional irony behind Binder’s Einstein-like persona. After his brain power came to the public’s attention, rather than fight it through false-humility (the kid who says “I totally failed that test” before pulling the class’ only “A”), Kyle embraced an image of himself, enabling him to remain in control of it. He graced his character with a dose of irony. As backwards as it sounds, when he walked out onto that stage bearing his ACT score across his chest, in a way he was being self-deprecating. Performance art, highlighting the absurdity of reducing one’s self to a test score. There is no finer moment where Binder’s heightened awareness glimmered through.
Though he may not seem it, Kyle is as stubborn as anyone you’ll cross paths with. Fiercely averse to all forms of gluttony, moral-ambiguity, and even the tiniest of lies, Binder maintains a clear-eyed picture of the man he is. His heightened consciousness has enabled him to discern not only a more vivid reflection of himself, but also of the world around him. There is no one who rivals Binder’s intake of information in a given situation. This allows him to accelerate over hurdles at breakneck speed. Simply put, his head is always looking forward. A true appreciation of this gift, however, can only be gained from extended exposure to Kyle. The anecdotes are too vast to capture; if anything, it’s easier to come up with things he has failed to develop outstanding skills at (swimming, nunchaku, writing with his opposite hand). He will beat you at your favorite board game before you finish explaining the rules; he picks up new languages for no reason other than its inherent coolness; before he goes to sleep, he answers one hundred trivia questions. Examples are meaningless because it’s not the (many) talents Binder possesses that makes him so fascinating; it’s his near effortless ability to pick them up. An ability derived from keen observations of the world which surrounds him, disassembling the key details of any given objective and molding the pieces to fit his current abilities.
More important than anything else, Kyle’s sense of awareness grants itself beyond the acquisition of mad rapping skills and an astute sense of style. It is the foundation for the greatest gift he has acquired: his kindness. Whether it hails from his understanding of everyone’s unique life circumstances or his discernment of the inherent good in people, I won’t speculate. Regardless, Binder’s heart is a treasure that everyone who has been given the honor of knowing him holds in admiration. He does not speak ill of others. Lots of people say this about lots of other people, but I feel it deserves special merit when referring to Kyle. With just about everyone else I have met, saying that they never disparage other people is at least on some level, a hyperbole. This is not the case with Kyle Binder. He is someone who drives me to greatness in many ways, however, it is not his GPA, his ability to consume a five-hundred-page novel in an afternoon, or his chiseled calves that I aspire to the most. It is the way he meets every human being with nothing short of unconditional love. From cheering just as loud for the runner finishing last as he did for the stud who won the race, to giving his attention, full and unlimited, to whoever asks him for help solving an integral. From asking the stranger he’s holding the door open for how they’re day is going, to remembering to write his old friend with whom his path has parted. Kyle Binder is a genius. But that is without a doubt the least impressive or important aspect of him. He watches as the world spins, acutely aware of the seven billion people that inhabit it. Wanting nothing more than to remind each and every one of us how much we matter to him.