But the best story I have about my dad – unfortunately my dad passed away a little over a year ago – and when we were going through his things, he had fought in World War II in the Battle of the Bulge, and when we were going through his things, we found out he had been awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. My mom didn’t know it. In 50 years of marriage it had just never come up. My mom. [Shows picture of Randy as a young child, pulling his Mom’s hair]. Mothers are people who love even when you pull their hair. And I have two great mom stories. When I was here studying to get my Ph.D. and I was taking something called the theory qualifier, which I can definitively say is the second worst thing in my life after chemotherapy. [laughter] And I was complaining to my mother about how hard this test was and how awful it was, and she just leaned over and she patted me on the arm and she said, we know how you feel honey, and remember when your father was your age he was fighting the Germans. [laugher] After I got my Ph.D., my mother took great relish in introducing me as, this is my son, he’s a doctor but not the kind that helps people. [laughter] These slides are a little bit dark [meaning “hard to see”], but when I was in high school I decided to paint my bedroom. [shows slides of bedroom] I always wanted a submarine and an elevator. And the great thing about this [shows slide of quadratic formula painted on wall] [interrupted by laughter] – what can I say? And the great thing about this is they let me do it. And they didn’t get upset about it. And it’s still there. If you go to my parent’s house it’s still there. And anybody who is out there who is a parent, if your kids want to paint their bedroom, as a favor to me let them do it. It’ll be OK. Don’t worry about resale value on the house.
Other people who help us besides our parents: our teachers, our mentors, our friends, our colleagues. God, what is there to say about Andy Van Dam? When I was a freshman at Brown, he was on leave. And all I heard about was this Andy Van Dam. He was like a mythical creature. Like a centaur, but like a really pissed off centaur. And everybody was like really sad that he was gone, but kind of more relaxed? And I found out why. Because I started working for Andy. I was a teaching assistant for him as a sophomore. And I was quite an arrogant young man. And I came in to some office hours and of course it was nine o’clock at night and Andy was there at office hours, which is your first clue as to what kind of professor he was. And I come bounding in and you know, I’m just I’m going to save the world. There’re all these kids waiting for help, da da, da da, da da, da da, da da. And afterwards, Andy literally Dutch-uncled – he’s Dutch, right? He Dutch-uncled me. And he put his arm around my shoulders and we went for a little walk and he said, Randy, it’s such a shame that people perceive you as so arrogant. Because it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish in life. What a hell of a way to word “you’re being a jerk.” [laughter] Right? He doesn’t say you’re a jerk. He says people are perceiving you this way and he says the downside is it’s going to limit what you’re going to be able to accomplish.
When I got to know Andy better, the beatings became more direct, but. [laughter] I could tell you Andy stories for a month, but the one I will tell you is that when it came time to start thinking about what to do about graduating from Brown, it had never occurred to me in a million years to go to graduate school. Just out of my imagination. It wasn’t the kind of thing people from my family did. We got, say, what do you call them? …. jobs. And Andy said, no, don’t go do that. Go get a Ph.D. Become a professor. And I said, why? And he said, because you’re such a good salesman that any company that gets you is going to use you as a salesman. And you might as well be selling something worthwhile like education. [long pause, looks directly at Andy van Dam] Thanks. Andy was my first boss, so to speak. I was lucky enough to have a lot of bosses. [shows slide of various bosses] That red circle is way off. Al is over here. [laughter] I don’t know what the hell happened there. He’s probably watching this on the webcast going, my god he’s targeting and he still can’t aim! [laughter] I don’t want to say much about the great bosses I’ve had except that they were great. And I know a lot of people in the world that have had bad bosses, and I haven’t had to endure that experience and I’m very grateful to all the people that I ever had to have worked for. They have just been incredible.
But it’s not just our bosses, we learn from our students. I think the best head fake of all time comes from Caitlin Kelleher. Excuse me, Doctor Caitlin Kelleher, who just finished up here and is starting at Washington University, and she looked at Alice when it was an easier way to learn to program, and she said, yeah, but why is that fun? I was like, ‘cause uh, I’m a compulsive male…I like to make the little toy soldiers move around by my command, and that’s fun. She’s like, hmm. And she was the one who said, no, we’ll just approach it all as a storytelling activity. And she’s done wonderful work showing that, particularly with middle school girls, if you present it as a storytelling activity, they’re perfectly willing to learn how to write computer software. So all-time best head fake award goes to Caitlin Kelleher’s dissertation.
President Cohen, when I told him I was going to do this talk, he said, please tell them about having fun, because that’s what I remember you for. And I said, I can do that, but it’s kind of like a fish talking about the importance of water. I mean I don’t know how to not have fun. I’m dying and I’m having fun. And I’m going to keep having fun every day I have left. Because there’s no other way to play it.
So my next piece of advice is, you just have to decide if you’re a Tigger or and Eeyore. [shows slide with an image of Tigger and Eeyore with the phrase “Decide if you’re Tigger or Eeyore”] I think I’m clear where I stand on the great Tigger/Eeyore debate. [laughter] Never lose the childlike wonder. It’s just too important. It’s what drives us. Help others. Denny Proffitt knows more about helping other people. He’s forgotten more than I’ll ever know. He’s taught me by example how to run a group, how to care about people. M.K. Haley – I have a theory that people who come from large families are better people because they’ve just had to learn to get along. M.K. Haley comes from a family with 20 kids. [audience collectively “aaahs”] Yeah. Unbelievable. And she always says it’s kind of fun to do the impossible. When I first got to Imagineering, she was one of the people who dressed me down, and she said, I understand you’ve joined the Aladdin Project. What can you do? And I said, well I’m a tenured professor of computer science. And she said, well that’s very nice Professor Boy, but that’s not what I asked. I said what can you do? [laughter] And you know I mentioned sort of my working class roots. We keep what is valuable to us, what we cherish. And I’ve kept my [high school] letterman’s jacket all these years. [Puts on letterman’s jacket] I used to like wearing it in grad school, and one of my friends, Jessica Hodgins would say, why do you wear this letterman’s jacket? And I looked around at all the non-athletic guys around me who were much smarter than me. And I said, because I can. [laughter] And so she thought that was a real hoot so one year she made for me this little Raggedy Randy doll. [takes out Raggedy Randy] [laughter] He’s got a little letterman’s jacket too. That’s my all-time favorite. It’s the perfect gift for the egomaniac in your life. So, I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way.