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November 30, 2007

"Imagine the Magic" Redux

Last year I wrote about the winners of the "Imagine the Magic" contest that Microsoft ran about ten years ago. These were kids between the ages of 6 and 11 who got to meet Bill Gates as a prize in an essay-writing contest about "what the coolest computer could do."

I'm always curious about the imprint that people leave on the Internet and how locatable average people are, so I searched for the winners. The contest ran in two years, 1995 and 1996. With the information I had (name, age, and hometown for the 1996 bunch) I was able to find traces of a few of them. One of them was a girl from Spokane named Maryellen Cooley, about whom I wrote (based on her myspace account), "she seems to have veered away from computers. And, like many people you can't quite track down, she's rumored to be in Canada."

Flash forward to last month, and I'm waiting in line to attend a local theatre production with my son. The usher, somewhat unusually, walked down the line and handed us all programs before we went in. I was glancing through the list of cast members (my son knew one of the actors in the show) when I saw a name that jogged my memory: Maryellen Cooley.

It's a fairly unique first name so I figured it was probably the same person, but I wasn't really sure how to confirm it. But I really wanted to know! I quickly pondered and dismissed several plans involving waiting around after the show and then approaching her and saying...what exactly?

So I was thinking about this when I realized, based on the conversation she was having, that I was standing in line right in front of Maryellen's mother. And of course I just HAD to say something...I mean I knew it would sound really strange to say "I work at Microsoft and I recognize your daughter's name from a contest they had 11 1/2 years ago, is she the same person?"...but that's basically what I said. Her having been in the contest, and me having blogged about it, then for us to come to a show she was in, and the usher giving the programs out early, and for her mother to be right behind us in line...I couldn't not do it. And lo and behold it was the same person. I briefly discussed it with her mother; she said that Maryellen had enjoyed the bright lights and limousines, but she wasn't particularly interested in computers now.

Then they started taking tickets and we sat down to watch the show, in which Maryellen was fantastic (as was the rest of the cast). I looked for her mother afterwards just to offer my congratulations, but I didn't see her, so we left.

Then afterwards I got curious to know more about the effect of such an event happening to you at age seven. Maybe she had been inspired to pursue an acting career? Maybe it had given her the confidence to succeed? Maybe she was embarrassed about the whole thing and didn't like to talk about it? So I sent email to the person in the cast that my son knew, asking him to ask Maryellen to email me if she wanted to (and he felt OK asking her).

I did get email from Maryellen, and sent off a bunch of questions about the aftermath of the contest. In my imagination, what would have happened next was that she would respond to the email and I would write it up on this blog. Then I would send a link to Bill Gates with a "just thought you might be interested in this" intro. Bill would be amused to hear of the effect he had had on a young person, and interested to find out that she was performing in a show right near Microsoft. He would attend a performance incognito, then wait around afterwards to say hello. When she didn't come out at first, he would send the person working at the snack bar back to get her. And imagine the surprise on her face when she saw him.

That's the imaginary version. What really happened was Maryellen never answered my email. Maybe it came off as too strange, or maybe she really doesn't want to talk about it. Or maybe she just forgot to reply, but I didn't want to nag her about it. Maybe even writing this blog entry is too stalker-ish, but I like coincidences such as this one, and it was nice to see that whatever the effect of the contest had been, she appeared to have turned into a happy, functioning adult.

Posted by AdamBa at November 30, 2007 10:31 PM

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