A Little Fun – for a Change

I teach an engineering course at a local university –students in their last year learn about power system design, and I have loved the opportunity to work with these keen young minds.

After the final exam a few weeks ago, one of the students asked about what had changed since I was a student? I laughed and decided to tell a few bad tales…

On my first day – in first year engineering, back in 1963, I was in my first class – Geology 150. A loud bang on the door occurred and in marched 5 or 6 very tough looking 4th year engineering students… “Who has not bought an engineering sweater?” was the question… Thinking that it would be a good time to buy, I put up a hand. I was instantly grabbed by the biggest 4 of these “thugs,” hauled out and thrown head first into the lily pond outside. Soaked, I was dragged back in – and deposited on the bare cold floor in front of the class… “Anyone else not got a sweater yet??” The class was deadly silent. I left, changed, bought a sweater and came back to class. Lesson 1 learned – and not about geology.

A few weeks later, I attended one of our weekly noon meetings – all dressed in our red sweaters. During the summer, a few students had made some very ugly statues, complete with little bronze castings with “In memory of….” on each statue, and all of these monstrosities had been placed around the arts building. We marched out chanting – “do we like these…. NO!!!”… “what are we going to do…??” And we promptly smashed every one to bits. The two local papers were furious at the engineers… and even the TV networks referred to us as savages.. A few days later the truth came out. That was fun.

Later there were other stunts. A group stole the “Speakers Chair” from the provincial legislature, and the 9 PM Gun, an artifact in Vancouver that goes off every night at exactly 9 PM, disappeared. Both were returned unharmed after about a week.

But the stunt that provokes a lot of strange memories was done by a small group of engineers. They made a very large batch of good cookies – laced with an organic indicator, that they had been assured would not be harmful. The indicator turned red in an acid liquid.

One of the group put a desk in the lobby of the lecture theatre where arts students were to have a big meeting. They gave out cookies – a gift from the engineers. A few hours later, there was a long line of students at the university health centre, certain that they were all suffering from internal bleeding. It was quite outrageous. The chemistry professor that taught the students responsible for the stunt failed them all, for 2 or 3 years after. One that I knew and still see from time to time, had to give up on his engineering future, and became an architect. He is now retired.

My students laughed at me and told me that they would surely be jailed if they tried ANY of the stunts that we had thought were funny. And on reflection, they were probably correct. How intolerant have we become, and how much fun some of the stunts were. Most were aimed at situations, and care was taken not to target any individual or group..

There is a lesson here. Some of the worst “hell raisers” in my years as a student did well in their careers.  One became the head of a large oil company, and others did some remarkable work. These people had minds that could come up with “out of the box” ides, outrageous as they may have been. But I do think that more of this kind of thought is what is needed today. We need innovation, out of the box thought, and the ability to turn some crazy vision into a practical reality. Those were fun years.

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