Thomas F. Magliozzi, better known as half of Click and Clack from the National Public Radio series "Car Talk," described his "defining moment" to 2,087 undergraduates and graduate students and thousands of guests at MIT's 133rd Commencement last Friday.
After he earned an economics degree from MIT in 1958 and graduate degrees from Northeastern and Boston University, he was driving from his home in Cambridge to his job in Foxboro when his tiny MG was cut off on Route 128 by a semi tractor trailer.
"I said to myself, 'If I had bought the farm, how ticked off would I be that I had spent my whole life going to this job, living a life of quiet desperation?'" Very, he decided, so he immediately quit his job. "Most people would have bought a bigger car," said his brother Raymond, the other half of the duo and himself a 1972 MIT graduate.
In a mildly irreverent speech in which the brothers took turns playing straight man to each other's jokes, Tom and Ray Magliozzi urged the graduates to take the time to "identify, hear and see things that will change your life." (A full transcript of their speech begins on page 5.)
Tom said that after he quit his engineering job, he spent the next two years "drinking coffee in Harvard Square." During this time, he met his future wife and invented the do-it-yourself car repair shop, which turned out to be a flop but led the brothers to open their own car repair shop in Cambridge. This eventually led to the NPR radio show that is heard by 2 million listeners on 370 radio stations from Guam to Tuscaloosa.
"None of this would have happened if I had been using my left brain," he said. Ray concurred: "If any of you has charted a course that you know is wrong, if you feel an urge to create and discover, do it now while you're young. You'll never have more energy, enthusiasm, hair and brain cells than you do now.
"Never get so involved in your work that you forget to have fun," Ray said.
Tom claimed he had discovered what "may be the scientific finding of all time." The brothers claimed to have discovered that happiness is inversely proportional to intelligence. The dumber you are, they said, the happier you are. "My brother and I will help you achieve nirvana," Tom said. "Repeat the mantra: Unencumbered by the Thought Process."
Tom said his theory, dubbed reverse incarnation, holds that instead of leading future lives as better and better people, good people will come back as a golden retriever, a cow, a worm and finally grass, getting happier in the process.
The Magliozzis' Commencement address came on the heels of several esteemed speakers: President William J. Clinton and AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho last year, and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan in 1997.
Explaining why they had been invited to take the podium that had been occupied by such noted individuals, Ray said that following these other appearances, Tom carped on air about why they -- Click and Clack -- had not been invited to give the MIT Commencementaddress.
They received tongue-in-cheek letters from President Charles M. Vest explaining that both the United Nations and the President of the United States had "really spiffy flags" that came in handy to "cheer up a drab corner of the campus."
So, not to be outdone, the Magliozzi brothers created a flag. Their flag -- purple, red and black on a white background -- is four by six feet, emblazoned with the slogan Non Impediti Ratione Cogitatonis (Unencumbered by the Thought Process) surrounding a seal depicting a 1959 Cadillac with a raccoon tail on the trunk. It flew on the podium alongside the US and state flags.
In their rambling, hour-long address, the brothers occasionally jockeyed for position at the podium, yelled "Stop it!" and "Behave!" at each other and laughed harder than almost anyone in the audience at their own jokes. Their speech was accompanied by hand-held graphs on posterboard that showed the relationship between happiness levels for "left brain vs. right brain" individuals.
Although each brother seemed loath to give the other the last word, Ray finally managed with: "Have fun, enjoy the ride and don't drive like my brother."
A version of this article appeared in the June 9, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 33).