The six degrees of separation is the mathematical notion that every person on the planet is no more than six people away from every other person, in terms of who knows who. So, you and I are no more than six people away from Harrison Ford, Queen Elizabeth, or a Mongolian yak herder. Recently, I experienced a great example of how such connections can be put to good use.
Last November, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy spoke to area students at Husson University about his trips to the International Space Station, and I was there to write about the Brewer Community School students who attended. After the show, I asked Katie Miller, a teacher at BCS, if I could interview a student who had been particularly excited by the visit. She connected me with 10-year-old Sam Woodward, who perfectly fit the bill.
“To have a space station, and to be able to go up onto that space station, just awes me,” Sam told me.
Sam wants to go to space, in tandem with his dream, since age 7, of being an astrophysicist. When I asked him why he’d chosen that profession, he replied, “I’ve been watching ‘The Big Bang Theory,’” he said. “It’s science!”
I asked him who his favorite character was, and he said it was a toss-up between Raj and Howard. If you don’t watch the show (and you should), Rajesh Koothrappali is an astrophysicist, and Howard Wolowitz is an engineer who traveled to the space station.
Those things have gotten Sam very excited about his career plans, but they began before
he ever saw the show.
“I’ve known that I want to be a scientist of some sort my whole life,” he said.
At this point, I was Sam’s fan. We often hear that America’s youth lacks interest and education in science, but if every young person had even a bit of Sam’s excitement, we’d
be in great shape. So I figured I’d tease him with something, and told him that I have a friend who’s a writer for “The Big Bang Theory.”
His eyes bulged out. “That’s got to be EPIC!” he cried.
Sam’s enthusiasm, and how the show influenced him, inspired me. I remembered that James Doohan, who played Scotty, the engineer on the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original “Star Trek,” often spoke of fans who told him that they had become engineers because of
him. And I had an idea.
I emailed Anthony Del Broccolo, my friend who’s the executive story editor for the show. I came to know Anthony after interviewing him for the BDN, but we certainly aren’t close enough to call in favors. But I figured he could connect me with the publicists for Simon Helberg, who plays Howard, and Kunal Nayyar, who plays Raj. My goal: a signed photo for Sam.
Anthony is a busy guy, but he offered to take care of it, and several weeks later he emailed to say that Kunal and Simon had come through. And when the mailer arrived, and I was stunned. There was a photo of each actor, in character, with personal notices signed to Sam.
“Dear Sam, Smart guys get all the girls,” wrote Kunal, who plays the girl-shy Raj. “Just you wait.”
“Sam — Heard you’re going into astrophysics,” wrote Simon, who plays genius engineer Howard. “You are a smarter man than I. Go get ‘em!”
I took the photos over to my friends at School Street Picture Framing, who had agreed to frame them for free. It was fitting; Sam is a Brewer boy, I live in Brewer, and School Street Picture Framing is in Brewer. They say it takes a village to raise a child, so it was nice to team up for one of our own.
When I showed his excited parents the photos (Sam was in the dark), they told me more about Sam. At age 4, he was entranced by the idea of outer space. He had a stint with a chemistry set before he discovered “The Big Bang Theory” and learned about astrophysics. The always-curious Sam researched and learned about it, and discovered it would fit nicely with his love of space.
His parents keep Sam focused on his studies; Sam knows of the importance of going to college and staying out of trouble. His grandparents pay him cash rewards for A’s on his report card. And the family keeps him going during the summer, with trips to summer camp, including one right up his alley: the Challenger Learning Center, which focuses on space.
Sam visited the Bangor Daily News with his family, where we all surprised him with the photos. He was appropriately pleased, and there was little doubt he was going to enjoy them.
After he left the BDN, Sam went straight to School Street Picture Framing to thank them for their kind donation. And his mother tells me that thank-you cards for Simon, Kunal and Anthony are in the works. It’s a happy ending to a happy story — one where we all hope we’ve helped shore up one young man’s dream.
So, back to that six degrees of separation. By knowing Anthony, I’m two degrees from Kunal and Simon and everybody else involved with “The Big Bang Theory.” That’s pretty cool. But what’s cooler is that I’m one degree from Sam Woodward. Perhaps Kunal and Simon will see his picture on a magazine cover someday and tell people they once signed photos for that guy. Whatever Sam does, I have no doubt it will be interesting.
Special thanks to Anthony, Kunal, and Simon; the PR folks at Warner Bros. Television; and the folks at School Street Picture Framing.