High school reunions usually don’t lead to much more than a headache and back pain from dancing the conga line too hard.
But for Stanislaus County Superintendent Tom Changnon it led to talking with his former classmate and Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak. While they didn’t run in the same circles at their Cupertino school, the two reconnected last year at their 45-year Homestead High reunion. And that conversation ultimately led to an upcoming appearance by Wozniak for the Stanislaus County Office of Education Destination Graduation initiative.
“At this reunion we had more time to sit and talk. It’s not like the five-year reunion when the music was blasting away,” he said. “So we reconnected then. I told him what I was doing. Because we had the Destination Graduation initiative in its formative stages, I thought wouldn’t it be a fun thing to have Steve come and talk to people in Modesto and Stanislaus County. He is a game changer in the ways our lives are lived.”
At the time, Changnon said Wozniak – known in the tech community by the nickname “The Woz“ – joked that he should call his agent. But then after the reunion more phone calls ensued and the two men spoke again. This time Wozniak told him they’d find a way to make it work, and they did.
Wozniak will speak at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Saturday as a benefit for the county’s new Destination Graduation initiative.
The 63-year-old tech innovator’s life story has become a permanent part of Silicon Valley lore. In 1971, Wozniak met Steve Jobs when he was a student at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jobs was still in high school. The men began working together and five years later founded Apple Computer out of Jobs’ garage.
And the rest, as they say, is history – and also probably in your pants pocket thanks to the proliferation of the iPhone and other Apple products.
Since co-founding Apple in 1976, Wozniak worked at the company during its formative years before leaving in 1985. He has gone on to launch several other ventures including universal remote control technology and wireless GPS devices. He also has worked with schools and students to bring technology into classrooms and foster creativity through his philanthropic endeavors.
Still, like Jobs, Wozniak was originally a famous college dropout. But he returned to UC Berkeley and earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and computer science in 1986.
Changnon remembers Wozniak as an active member of the robotics club. They graduated together in 1968. He attended both the five and 10-year high school reunions with him as well – which came right before and right after Apple hit it big. But then Changnon stopped going to the events until last year.
As superintendent, Changnon launched the Destination Graduation initiative this past fall. The program is aimed at improving the high school graduation rate across the county.
Wozniak’s talk is expected to include some personal biography as well as his thoughts on the future of technology. There will be a question-and-answer portion in the presentation, and VIP ticketholders can take part in a meet-and-greet session before the show. Some of the proceeds from the event will go to the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
Changnon said he hopes parents and students from across the county attend and are inspired by Wozniak’s message.
“Steve shows that with an education and with innovation and a creative mind, anything is possible,” Changnon said. “We’re very excited to have someone of his stature come to Stanislaus County. We want people to be inspired to dream big and be persistent and understand that education and knowledge is power.”