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Correspondence between President Vest and ‘Click and Clack’

President Charles M. Vest responded to humorous complaints by the Magliozzi brothers that MIT had not invited them to speak at previous Commencements. The letters dated June 1997 and June 1998 featured on the Car Talk website and read on-air generated a groundswell of emails sent to the Institute of support for “Click and Clack” by MIT alumni.

June 12, 1997

Dear Click '58 and Clack '72:

I was sorry to learn of your disappointment at not being asked to deliver the main address at this year's commencement exercise. It had been my understanding that you don't usually care for exercise--especially in the open air--and that you therefore wouldn't be interested in ours.

On the other hand, as alumni, you will appreciate the fact that we have some fairly eccentric students and faculty here at the Institute, so the idea of having you two gentlemen as graduation speakers is invariably floated each spring.

This year, as always, there was a strong (but murky) undercurrent of support for you as commencement speakers. Still, even your most ardent backers had to admit that there was one crucial area in which your qualifications could not match those of your fellow alumnus, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan '72.

As you know, the United Nations has a really spiffy flag. Because Secretary-General Annan was featured as this year's speaker, we had a legitimate excuse to fly the U.N. flag on the dais and also to hang it anywhere else we wanted to. You can imagine how useful such a flag can be when you want to cheer up a drab corner of the campus or decorate a really big space like an auditorium or athletic cage.

If Car Talk, or even Dewey, Cheetham & Howe--had possessed a similarly attractive flag, we might have been able to use you, but, as it was, we felt that we really had to go with the secretary-general for aesthetic reasons.

You will be pleased to know, however, that Secretary-General Annan was a great success. The graduating seniors were especially moved when he described his challenge at the U.N. as, "a little like trying to climb Mount Washington in a '63 Dodge Dart." He was also warmly applauded when he urged the U.S. Senate to give him "their share of the gas money" for U.N. operations worldwide.

Thus, despite your absence, MIT's 1997 commencement exercise was a smashing success. Please rest assured, however, that we will keep you in mind for future ceremonies. If you do get a flag, be sure to let us know. Also, it would help your candidacies if you could get through a complete sentence without breaking into sputtering guffaws. As you may recall from your own graduations, the participants want the speakers to be brief and to the point. I know that brevity is not regarded as your most notable quality.

Finally, I would like to urge you to start sending us really large donations. Tuition pays only half the cost of an MIT education, and research universities are at least as hungry for contributions as is WBUR. So, send money.

Technically yours,

Charles M. Vest


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Click and Clack, The Tappet Brothers

Car Talk

PO Box 3500, Harvard Square

Our Fair City, Cambridge, MA 02238

Dear Click '58 and Clack '72:

I understand that you have once again expressed on-air disappointment over not being asked to speak at MIT's graduation.

Last summer, I advised you that your chances of being invited as Commencement speakers would be enhanced if Car Talk had a suitable flag that could be used to help us decorate the campus. I hear that you now have come up with a flag and that you thought this would assure your inclusion in the 1998 Commencement program. Certainly, it is possible that a truly elegant flag--along with your accountable, yet undeniable popularity among your fellow alums--might have gone a long way toward assuring places for you in this year's celebrations, except for two rather obvious problems:

* Problem Number One: You failed to show your new flag to anyone at MIT. Now, I don't doubt that the flag actually exists (well, that's not entirely accurate: I do doubt the flag exists), but its existence does you no good if you keep it secret. There is, after all, a reason why people use expressions like "Let's run this up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes..." or "Let's get out there and show the flag..."--and that reason is, very simply, that people cannot appreciate your flag unless they can see it. Now some of my colleagues have suggested that the Car Talk flag may be based on some sort of advanced stealth technology, in which case I applaud your technical prowess. On the whole, however, a stealth flag seems to me to be a self-defeating innovation.

* Problem Number Two: One of this year's commencement speakers is the honorable William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States. As the duly elected leader of the world's only superpower, Mr. Clinton not only comes with his own flag--and a darn good one, too--but he's even got a SEAL. Talk about upping the ante! Heck, this guy brings his own podium, audience, press corps, helicopter--you name it.

There's just no way for the two of you to compete this year. You think you're disappointed? Not even I get to make a speech this year, and I'm supposed to run the place.

Nonetheless, I urge you not to give up hope. Send us pictures of this alleged flag of yours (along with appropriate contribution to the alumni fund), and we'll talk about next year.

Oh, and good luck with the audit.

As ever, I remain

Technically yours,

Charles M. Vest