John Henry Thompson, the son of Jamaican laborers who often moved from city to city in search of better work, says: “The big theme in my family was be able to get a job.”
Thompson recalls that his mother, who believed education is the key to success, was the only parent at his junior high in the Bronx who showed up for the parent-teacher conference. “She encouraged me to excel in school and taught me that education is a stepping-stone to financial and creative independence.”
Recently Thompson pledged $50,000 to establish a scholarship at MIT in honor of his late mother, Mabel Thompson, because he says: “She went out of her way to get me on the right path.”
In 1983, after earning an MIT degree in electrical engineering and computer science with a concentration in visual studies, Thompson headed for California where he worked in computer graphics. Soon after, he became chief scientist at Macromedia, where he invented Lingo, the most widely-used computer programming language in interactive media. Lingo is used to create computer games with Shockwave, the plug-in that plays interactive games on the Internet, which is used by 100 million people.
Fascinated by computers in high school, Thompson gave up his lunch period to study in the computer lab, where he learned to program. At 15, he got a job in an after school program, folding computer print-outs, and began imagining himself at MIT.
Thompson, who had a full scholarship to the Institute, says he made the gift “to express my gratitude. I wanted to help someone else who needs financial assistance, and I also wanted to say thank you, Mom, for all your efforts to get me on the right track.”