Why the Cardboard Arcade Boy’s Story is Also His Dad’s

Earlier this week, while participating in my family’s usual routine of dinner served with Nightly News with Brian Williams on NBC, my attention was completely fixed on a segment about the progress of a boy who, in the summer of 2011, created an arcade using cardboard right in his father’s East Los Angeles used car parts store.

Apparently the rest of the world had already fallen in love with Caine Monroy, who imaginatively put together a basketball game, a soccer game, and a claw, just using cardboard, tape, and material from his father’s store. What his father George thought would be a good way to “keep him out of the way” became an elaborate display of a creative imagination. Monroyeven incorporated faux security into his store by creating a “security access code” using calculators as the entrance box. Monroy worked to perfect his arcade and waited all summer for customers to grab a funpass and enter in, but it was only at the end of the summer that the first one arrived. Lucky for him, that customer was filmmaker Nirvan Mullick.

After a couple of visits, Mullick asked Monroy’s father for permission to make a documentary on Monroy and his arcade. His father responded, “Actually, it’s kind of a joke around here. You’re his only customer.”

Consequently, Mullick used social media to collect LA residents and surprised Monroyone Sunday afternoon with an eager crowd ready to purchase their own funpasses. Monroy’s joy and excitement is captured in the short film Mullick produced – a film which quickly became viral.

Soon Monroy’s arcade became everyone’s favorite arcade. Subsequently, Caine was invited to speak at the University of Southern California’s school of business, thereby being the youngest entrepreneur ever to do so. He was also featured in magazines; in fact, Forbesmagazine contributors have written articles drawing lessons from Monroy’s entrepreneurialpractices.

As I watched the segment on Monroy’s arcade, I thought, what if his dad told him not to mess with the stuff around the shop? Or what if he said ‘you’re not allowed to set your arcade up in front of the store; you’re making it look messy. On that note, George could have easily toldMonroy to give up on getting any customers and relegated his son into a room with a TV.

But he didn’t. George encouraged his son in his quest to build an arcade, knowing that his son had a knack for putting things together. In fact, when Monroy asked to buy a claw, his fathersaid, “Why don’t you make your own?” Of course, the claw turned out better than George had anticipated.

​Nirvan Mullick, the filmmaker who helped spurn Monroy’s fame, created a scholarship in his name that has raised $250,000 for Monroy’s future schooling in the engineering field. Through a grant given by the Goldhirsch Foundation and inspired by students and teachers applying creativity through cardboard, the Imagination Foundation was created “tofind, foster and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in children around the world to raise a new generation of innovators and problem solvers who have the tools they need to build the world they imagine.”

​Children with unrestricted imaginations can go far. But we trample over the wild hopes of young people, even on a peer-to-peer basis. Maybe this reaction to big dreamers has something to do with our being afraid of what’s unknown and unpredictable; maybe we have experienced disappointment in our own “unattainable” aspirations, and we want to protect the people we care about fromdisappointment.

​However, I suggest we have a little more tolerance toward passionate people who care enough about what they love to dream big. After all, doesn’t passion produce the best work?

And we can start with ourselves in the quest to produce an environment that encourages creativity and high aims. As we embark on this school year, let’s not restrict ourselves to what’s already been done. Collegedale Academy could be the breeding grounds of the next great, if he or she snagged that opportunity before letting doubt stop him or her.