Back before the end of the Cold War
, the Commencement
organizers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
had something of a surprise. In an era where commencement speakers
were normally no more prestigious than the President of the Institute
, they received a letter from Helmut Schmidt
, the then-Chancellor of West Germany
, saying that he would like to speak at graduation. Now, this was hardly something that the organizers would turn down! So they started frantically trying to make sure that all of the necessary preparations and precautions were in place.
At the time, Commencement hacks were more common than they are today, and a certain member of the administration, whose name has since been lost to time, was afraid that the hackers might try to pull one that year. So she contacted a certain student she knew who she thought might know some hackers, and gave her a note to pass along: "Don't even try it. It's not just the Campus Police this year, we're talking German Secret Police, bodyguards, guys with
big guns. I know you're MIT students, and you're clever, but don't even consider hacking this speech. You can't do it; you'll get yourselves killed; it's impossible."
The hackers, however, never could turn down a challenge.
So the day of Commencement dawned, and it was a beautiful day. The campus was full of graduates, and parents, and policemen, and guards with big guns. The beginning of the ceremony
was uneventful, and then Helmut Schmidt began his speech. It was an inspiring speech, addressing many of the concerns of that era at the end of the Cold War. He talked about the end of nuclear proliferation, and understanding between East and West, and the dream of a united Germany, and world peace. And then suddenly, in the middle of the speech, a giant banner dropped down on the right side of the platform, reading, in foot-high letters, "IMPOSSIBLE"! The audience was flabbergasted; after all, what could the hackers possibly be thinking, to say that world peace was impossible? What a horrible statement! What would Germany think?
After much murmuring, the audience had finally settled down to listen to the rest of the interrupted speech, when suddenly another banner came rolling down on the left, this one saying, "NOTHING'S" -- so now, the words behind the speaker read "NOTHING'S IMPOSSIBLE". The audience members were quite relieved now that the hackers clearly approved of such great goals as world peace and understanding. The Campus Police were feeling very smug that the students had gotten the better of the CIA agents; and the CIA agents were feeling a bit nervous, but on the whole were very glad that the German police were the ones primarily responsible for Helmut's security; and the German police were wondering if they would ever see Berlin again; and one lone administrator really understood what the hackers meant.
Since then, there have been several prestigious speakers at commencement,
including Al Gore, President Clinton, and Kofi Annan; some have even been hacked. The administration, however, has never again dared to tell the hackers that anything is impossible.