STEVE JOBS AND I AND ONE IMPORTANT DEGREE OF SEPARATION
Reed College, where I earned my undergraduate and one graduate degree, celebrated its 100 year anniversary this year. Reedies form a tight little community wherever they are in the world, believing their educational experience to be unique. I suspect most graduates feel the same about their alma maters. In any case, I was surprised to learn during this year’s centennial that Steve Jobs was a Reedie. I preceded him by 13 years, but from what I’ve read about his life, I’m not surprised to learn he was an alum.
Jobs did not graduate from Reed. He dropped out after a semester, presumably for financial reasons, but remained on campus for 18 months, auditing courses, sleeping in the dormitory rooms of friends and scrounging for food in the cafeteria. The authorities knew what he was doing but decided to turn a blind eye, particularly one man, the Dean of Students.
Years later, when Jobs returned to Reed to receive the Vollum Award for Distinguished Accomplishment in Science and Technology, he spoke of his student days and about this one man, Jack Dudman, who made it a habit of slipping a little money into the young man’s pocket when they took walks together on campus.
In my day, Jack Dudman wasn’t a Dean but my math professor and faculty advisor. I, too, remember him as a man of extreme kindness. He helped me through a period of adversity, also. Without his patience and unflagging willingness to tutor me, I’d have never made it through my Calculus requirement.
I thought it strange that Jobs and I, whose paths never crossed, should hold in mutual affection the same man. Jack Dudman refused to let Steve Jobs go hungry. Jack Dudman refused to let me drown academically. That hard won “C” I garnered in his math class was the proudest grade I ever earned.
In his acceptance speech for the Vollum award Jobs said that “Character is built not in good times, but in bad times, not in a time of plenty, but in a time of adversity.” I share his belief. But he never forgot, nor will I, the man who helped us in our adversity. That much Steve Jobs and I had in common.