Phoenix rising: Why the U of C works well

By Joshua Steinman

A recent Wall Street Journal article gets it right: the U of C “produces more heat.” The University is an academic hegemon, producing the ideas that are molding the social, political, scientific and economic culture of America.

And yet, in a recent response in this section, one of my fellow columnists attributed the success of “Old East” universities to the students they attract, claiming that students who sell themselves best end up at Harvard, while students less adept end up at the U of C.

This assertion is fundamentally

The reality is that both students who enter the University of Chicago and those who enter the “Old East” schools represent the top 1 percent of all graduating high school students. All of us have succeeded in doing extremely well academically, selling ourselves to admissions committees, and participating in extracurricular activities.

The success of “Old East” schools like Harvard and Yale lies not within, but without. Previously offering the best education within a reasonable distance from the power centers of the country, networks of people in business, journalism, politics, and academia grew from these old institutions.

Chicago is quickly surpassing these old east schools in terms of the “within.” We not only have a preponderance of the intellectual talent in the world, but our curriculum is arranged to give us an optimal learning environment. The core curriculum offers the best combination of the single-subject Oxford/Cambridge system of undergraduate education, and the single-curriculum style of St. John’s College. By requiring that students learn how to think in the style of the diverse disciplines, Chicago gives its graduates the ability to think across disciplines and outside established orthodoxies to produce creative and new ideas.

We are at a transformative moment in the history of study at the University of Chicago. While the student body has to this point focused on this internal development, the “life of the mind,” we are now at a unique moment when our attention is rightfully turning to “life beyond the mind.” New organizations, new companies, new groups are being created which are not only creating opportunities, but networks.

Boldness is the order of the day. Examples from the past year abound. Ian Desai’s Rhodes-winning journey retracing the steps of Jason and the Argonauts melded the exploration of antiquity and modern geo-politics., a student-created internet company, is changing the way college students find housing. BlueChips’ recent endowment means that serious student investors will finally be able to invest real money in real companies, and gain real-world experience that will be invaluable not only in terms of experience, but also resume-building. Moda, the new U of C fashion magazine, has already made a splash by giving artistically inclined students an outlet to express their passion for fashion. The list goes on.

Our peers are expanding the breadth of experiential possibilities as we speak. It is time for us all to join in. The best time to take risks is now.

Summer is the prime incubator for ideas. Think big. New companies, new quests, and new ideas abound in the ether.

Those of us who have internships lined up, great. Now it’s time to go out there and not only demonstrate U of C superiority and pride, but also push forward. Andrew Abbott said in the 2002 Aims of Education address that the Chicago education is so amazing because it allows you to “see more.” Our decisions are informed by a greater knowledge, which means our actions carry with them greater awareness. We can do more. Now is the time to prove it, and make sure people know why.

Those of us who don’t have internships, I encourage you to look outside the bounds of traditional considerations for something unique. Last summer, Maroon News Editor Daniel Gilbert traveled to Peru. He has shared his experiences for the past year in this section. Find your own unique adventures and experiences.

If you are at all interested in politics, this summer is the optimal time to get involved. The big Senate races are gearing up now, 18 months before the ’06 elections. The same goes for the highly contested Congressional races, which have primary elections in only a matter of months. By volunteering this summer you can secure a spot as a top campaign aide for the primary election next summer.

Risk-taking is especially important for our graduating colleagues. Last year, a good friend of mine, Josh Vizer, graduated after four years of studying Chinese (though he concentrated in another subject). He decided to take a risk. He went to China, and he remains there now, banking, but also exploring business opportunities.

Whatever your passion, now is the time to seize it and wring it dry. The follies of our youth are easily forgotten, but the successes of youth are long remembered. Don’t let the lessons you learned here go to waste. The time is now. The Phoenix is rising.