It is the day for Steve Jobs stories, and I have mine.
Years ago, 2002 or 2003 I think it was, I was organizing the VIP Readers Day for the school my kids went to. I had done it for two years, and had a cadre of local officials (the mayor, the city council, school board and California Assembly members, writers for the local paper, people in the community I knew were good readers and enjoyed the kids) that I called on. When necessary, I called on friends and parents of students in interesting professions. With the help of other volunteers, I also purchased books and planned the reception for readers. It was a time-consuming task that took up my life from January to May.
I had told the principal the previous year that I would not do it again. Oddly enough, at the first PTA meeting of the year, I discovered that I was once again responsible for the program. I went home, tore my hair out a bit, and kept my mouth shut.
Sometime in February, as I slogged through the round of emails begging for readers, my principal collared me one day after school. “Hey, I just heard a rumor that Steve Jobs went to school here. Maybe you could ask him?” Yeah, right. I figured that a) every elementary school in the area probably had a rumor floating around that someone like Jobs had gone there, and b) like he was really going to take time out of his busy schedule to read to a bunch of elementary school kids. So I shelved the idea.
My principal wouldn’t give up. So, I sent an email to “firstname.lastname@example.org” politely identifying myself and the school, and asking if he would come read. I expected nothing, or a polite email from some assistant stating that Mr. Jobs received so many requests to speak, he couldn’t fulfill all of them, and the best of luck, etc.
I received an email from an assistant, alright. An email that said he would be more than happy to read for VIP Reading Day. (I kept that particular set of emails for what must have been five years, when they got lost in a computer crash.) It turned out that yes, he had gone to the school for two years, and had very fond memories of the place.
I suggested that he read to a sixth grade class, since they would have the best idea who he was. No, he wanted to read to a fourth grade class, since that was the last year he had been there and he had particularly liked it. I have to admit I played favorites: I assigned him to the fourth grade teacher I liked the best.
That Reading Day was crazy. But I still remember meeting Steve, and his assistant (who was completely charming). I can remember how I was barely able to stammer out how much I had enjoyed working with his assistant and how delighted I was to have him there. I blathered a bit, to tell you the truth. I can still remember my first thought, which was “Wow, he’s a lot taller than I thought.” He smiled, shook my hand, and went on to the class where he was reading. He didn’t stay for the reception, but then I didn’t really expect him to; I was just happy he had been able to help us at all.
This was a man who remembered where he came from. A man who graciously took time out to read to a bunch of fourth graders, many of whom probably had little idea who he was, without fanfare or publicity.
I had been a supporter of Apple for years (my family has always and will always be Mac devotees), but had never thought much about Jobs himself. That changed that day; I became a Steve Jobs fan.
This man changed the world for everyone, and was still willing to help a small group of children understand the beauty of the written word. To help change their world, in a small and concrete way.
May he rest in peace.