A Tradition of Excellence
August 26, 2012 40 Comments
Yesterday we celebrated the life of a man who went (very literally) where no man had gone before. That man was Neil Armstrong. and we
were are so proud of him, that day in 1969 and for the rest of his life.
Are you old enough to remember The Coach, when I was a kid that only applied to one man, that man was John Wooden, the Head Coach of the Basketball Bruins of UCLA. He won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period—seven in a row.
The thing that connects these three men is that they were supremely competent at their jobs. None of them seemed to think they are or were a hero. If you asked them, they were just doing their jobs.
Which they were, superlatively. Why?
First, because like the Duke of Wellington they “took pains”. They knew what they were going to do in nearly any situation and they knew how they were going to do it. You don’t count on luck if you are going to be the first man on the moon, or successfully ditch an Airbus in the Hudson river, or totally dominate a sport. You work hard, you drill, you practice and you work some more.
Second, you learn that lesson somewhere, for these men that somewhere was Purdue. (Although, I’ll readily admit they probably knew it before.)
Purdue is an interesting place, It’s a land grant school, just like University of Nebraska, Lincoln, or the University of Wisconsin, Madison, formed under the Morrill act. Most of the land grant schools are fairly good although not exceptional. Purdue is the class of the world, however in at least two areas, engineering, and agriculture. It’s also world class in math, veterinary science, and computer science. Do you see a trend developing here? Yes, you’re right, Purdue’s excellence is based on hard, objective science and math. You know, right or wrong, no gray. That’s the culture of the entire campus. It’s a mostly conservative school. When I was there was the height of the Vietnam protests but, at Purdue, ROTC cadets from all services were comfortable anywhere on campus in uniform. Words like duty and honor were used often.
That’s not to say we didn’t like to screw off, have fun, drink beer, and chase girls (what few there were at the time) we were still 18-22 year old guys but, even there, you could see it, my floor of the dorm probably had something like $20,000 (1972 dollars) invested in stereo equipment, plus ham radios and anything else you could think of. Most of it was world class equipment. We used to sit in our rooms and watch radio controlled model airplanes fly around the parking lot. But we worked for our grades too. Worked hard. I’d bet less than a dozen people in my class of about 8000 had 6.0 grade point averages.
It was, and I suspect still is, an oasis of the old American Midwest with all that implies. So while this sounds like, and in some ways is, a commercial for Purdue, it’s really more than that. It’s a remembrance of what we, in America, were, good folks who worked hard, played hard, obeyed the rules (mostly), and got the job done right, usually the first time, too. We had feelings all right but, we had a mission too, and that was more important.
Let’s compare that to, say, Harvard, the oldest college in America, with alumni like the Adamses of Boston. It was probably one of the greatest schools in the world, and a Harvard MBA or law degree was the best in America. But now, most of us hold it in disrespect. Why? because it has cheapened itself, it has become ideological, not interested in proving its theories. considering it’s feelings before the objective conditions, so that now we have a constitutional scholar and the editor of the law review, who doesn’t understand that the constitution is the law, and when we elected him President of the United States he took an oath to enforce the laws, all the laws, of the United States, regardless of his feelings about them. It wouldn’t have hurt if he had taken a course in arithmetic sometime during his education either.
And so we have reached the point that if I had two resumes in front of me for a responsible job, one from a Harvard Law grad, with a Harvard MBA and one with a masters from the Krannert Graduate School of Industrial Management at Purdue, I’d shred the Harvard resume, he wouldn’t even get an interview. The Harvard guy might be qualified to run a shovel but, probably his sense of entitlement and self importance would get int the way. What a sad fate for a world class university.
Because that’s the way it is in the real world, facts (and the truth) matter.
- Requiem for a Hero (nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com)
- Neil Armstrong, First Man on the Moon, Dead at 82 (mashable.com)
- 10 Best John Wooden Quotes (mademan.com)
- Rest in Peace Neil Armstrong (adventuringout.wordpress.com)
- R.I.P. Neil Armstrong (deadline.com)
- Neil Armstrong (journal.neilgaiman.com)