Speech to Candidates for the UNI Presidential Scholarship

Brian Gongol - November 7, 2000

If you're applying to college in order to learn everything you need to know, please withdraw your application, turn around, and go home.

If anyone is promising you that they have the one hot major for the next twenty years...or that their school will teach you everything you need to know for your future, spin around on your back heel, take off running, and don't ever look back.

There may have been a time when the world fit neatly inside a major, a textbook, or a lecture series, but that time is not now. Believe me: In my time here, everything has changed. Not once, not twice: In most cases, three times or more.

Some background:

When I entered UNI in 1997, I registered as an electronic media major. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had just gone into law, and you couldn't find a broadcast group owner anywhere with more than a couple dozen radio or television stations in its portfolio. Today, the largest group in the country -- and the one that signs my paycheck -- has more than 950. Nobody's really sure exactly how many, since they buy them and sell them faster than the accounting department can keep up.

When I added a major in economics the following year, I was able to watch the Dow Jones Industrial Average go through its biggest bull market in history, plummet thousands of points in a correction, and begin recovering all over again. In the meantime, AOL bought Time Warner, Netscape joined AOL, Disney and Time Warner went to court, and the President of the United States was impeached. I won't even begin to describe what's happened on the Internet.

Quite simply, everything I knew or could have known has changed.

While it's daunting to face such an uncertain world, I can say with confidence that the Presidential Scholars program at UNI has been one of the most important tools I've had for responding to that level of change.

The Presidential Scholars program does this on two levels:

First, you're exposed to more knowledge, thinking, and great ideas -- and encouraged to go farther in your academic pursuits -- than any other group of students here or anywhere else. Your learning curve will be stretched in weekly seminars, monthly colloquia, and the crowning jewel: your senior thesis.

But on a more human level, you will be encouraged to grow within the learning community of your fellow Scholars. I won't guarantee that your class of Scholars will become your closest friends, though I've seen it happen year after year. I will guarantee, though, that you'll discover a group of people who hold one another in the highest regard and who learn from one another, even when they aren't really trying.

When you put all of this together, it forms a portrait of an extraordinarily well-rounded education. Personally, I discovered a favorite artistic movement during a seminar on Art and Politics in the 20th Century. Call it what you will, but the lighthearted and off-the-wall Dada movement is pretty interesting.

Did the seminar turn me into a Dadaist scholar or practitioner? No -- I'm still a hard-core business major. But that's precisely why the seminar was so useful. My electronic media degree makes me a liberal-arts major as well, but I'd never really made the connection between the two colleges. The seminar in Art and Politics helped me to see that business does tremendous things to shape society, but it also tends to leave an aesthetic void. People -- individually as well as collectively -- need to be well-rounded.

Thus, I have a recommendation that applies whether you attend UNI or any other school -- but one that applies especially to Presidential Scholars. Pursue two majors. With a little discipline, it's not hard to complete most double-majors in four years, and I assure you that the rewards are great.

As an economist, I have a rational argument: As an economics major, I'm one of some two dozen students graduating from that department in May. And I'm one of about the same number graduating in electronic media. But I'm the --only-- one graduating with degrees in both. I have a monopoly on the market! I'm worth more on the market -- as an employee or self-employed -- than I would be as either one alone.

Of course, the liberal-arts major demands equal time: Whether you're in pre-med, business, theater, or any of the 120 or so different majors offered at UNI, you'll someday wonder about something outside the normal scope of your major. You'll wonder about it a lot. And whether or not you'd ever pursue it for monetary gain, the knowledge of that subject itself will bring you personal satisfaction.

If you're here on a full-ride academic scholarship and you choose to do anything but use it to the fullest imaginable extent, you're letting yourself down. If you were handed a blank check, would you write it for $10 or $10 million? You may never need or want the full $10 million (and if you don't, I'd be more than willing to take it off your hands), but why would you squander such a huge gift?

Here's the bottom line: Am I proud to say that in six months, I'll be graduating from UNI? Absolutely. Say what you will about "brand-name" schools: Undergrads at Yale don't read a harder version of All Quiet on the Western Front. But I haven't found another college anywhere where you'll spend more time in classes taught by respected, tenured faculty -- and I'm certain that you won't find a school anywhere near our size where you'll have a comparable level of contact with your professors outside the classroom.

As a senior, I have professors and administrators who are business advisors, travel partners, and social friends. Yet I'll still admit that most of them know more than me and that I'll be drawing on their knowledge for years to come. This kind of contact is like getting an unlimited warranty on your education.

Think about why you really want to attend UNI. When I applied for this scholarship four years ago, I planned on using UNI as a "backup" school. Yet the more contact I had with the people here, the higher on my list it climbed -- until I can say to you now in complete honesty: I chose UNI over Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, among dozens of other schools that tried recruiting me. Did this particular scholarship help make that decision a little easier? Of course. But the true test is this: If I had to do it again, would I choose UNI? I can answer you with an unequivocal "yes."

Good luck, and welcome to the UNI family.