Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The "Dare Mighty Things" Scholarship

I am familiar with rejection. I’ve been rejected by colleges (13), potential employers (15+), internships (50+) and women (lost count long ago).

Yes, I’ve been rejected a lot. But, like anyone who’s consistently failed, I’ve developed ways to deal with it.

First, you remind yourself about all the great people who failed early on in life, but who, in the end—with tireless perseverance and unflinching resolve—proved their naysayers wrong. Then you—from the confinement of your home—cast invectives, declare revenge, violently bang your head against a mattress, and aspire to “show” your rejecter just how wrong he was. And then, finally, you get really, really drunk. Works every time.

For some reason, the sting of a rejected scholarship application tends to linger. Perhaps it’s because there are always other jobs, internships and girls out there in that great big sea. But when it comes to getting money for college, you’re shit out of luck if you can’t get a scholarship.

I don’t know how many of my scholarship applications have been rejected. Perhaps, someday, a team of scientists will create an equation that could help me make a reasonably close estimate. But for now, let’s just says it’s “a lot.”

When I applied to scholarships in high school, I didn’t have much going for me. The problem was multifold:

1.) I had a pedestrian high school academic record: I was ranked (a very mediocre) 77th in my high school class of 200, I passed my final physics exam by only one point, and I didn't impress any of my teachers.

2.) I had no interests or passions outside of girls, hockey, football, the Buffalo Sabres and my irrational desire to drive to Alaska. I never volunteered, took part in clubs, or held student office. I was, yes, a slacker. And no matter the amount of gloss I brushed onto my applications, I could never fool the people making the decisions.

3.) I was never right for a scholarship. I never fit the requirements. I didn’t have the grades, the bullshit clubs, or the sports accolades. I had something, but nothing that a scholarship committee could ever see.

My scholarship rejection streak finally ended during the first of my two senior years of college when I won a $1,000 award from the University at Buffalo's history department. But by then, my debt had accumulated to such unfathomable proportions that this little bit of money was too little, too late; it felt like I was approaching a burning building with a glass of water.

Before I came to Duke, I decided to give scholarships one more chance. Besides, I thought, I have a whole bunch of interesting life experiences to draw from and a strong undergraduate record to brag about. I even—I’m ashamed to say—told scholarship committees about my intention to live in the van to hopefully guilt them into giving me their money. Sure enough, all my applications were rejected. By this time, though, I’d known what to expect. It was up to me to fund my education.

So here’s what I want to do. I want to create a scholarship for someone like me; for someone whose potential cannot be measured by a GPA, SAT or GRE score; for someone who’s gotten no help from schools and scholarship committees because each other's goals never aligned; and for someone who is passionate, not just about succeeding—whatever that means—but living.

The scholarship I've made will be for college students (juniors and seniors) on the verge of graduating. Instead of being kicked into career-world or pushed back into a graduate school, I want to encourage students to forget about planning for the future and to focus on living the present. Plus, I think a traveler gets the most out her journey--and the people she meets get the most out of her--when she sets off with a degree's worth of eduction in her head.


This past June I wrote a post titled “Belated Manifesto” in which I sent money back to parents and friends because I thought their gifts interfered with my goal to graduate “debt-free.” For good reason, I got some less-than-positive feedback from the readers of this blog. And while my family was good-natured about the gesture, they refused to take the money.

So now I have $910.90 that isn’t mine, that interferes with my goal, and that—most oddly—I can’t get rid of. I decided I’d give it to a charity, but then I thought: why not create a “charity” of my own?

I’m pleased to announce that I will be giving away the first ever “Dare Mighty Things” Scholarship this winter, in honor of one of my favorite quotes (that was penned by the hand of Teddy Roosevelt):

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

Indeed, Teddy, indeed! My scholarship is designed to support students who wish to embark on an adventure of their own creation. I believe that for people to realize their fullest potential, it’s necessary to have some combination of focused academic study and broad worldly experiences. Each type of learning complements the other. On our journey, we see what’s wrong with the world, and in the academy, we acquire the tools to fix it.

While $900 will do nothing, it’s a start, and I’m hoping I can raise another $100 from the good readers of this blog to round it up to a nice $1,000. If we don’t raise that much, I’ll pay the rest on my own, and if—by chance—we exceed that goal, I’ll just put it toward next year’s scholarship. And I don’t think I have to say this but: know that none of this money will enter my pocket.

Three more things:

1.) I’ve named my best friend, fellow student debtor, and charity expert, Josh Pruyn, the Executive Vice President of the Dare Mighty Things Scholarship Foundation. He’ll help me sift through applications. I intend to advertise this on scholarship websites, so hopefully we'll get a good pile of applications.

2.) For more info about our mission and requirements, you can click this link, or just click on the tab below the photo of me standing next to the van titled "Scholarship."

3.) The winner will have his/her application essay posted on this blog; and hopefully we can get pictures/stories/etc. from their journey.

Oh, and if you care to donate, just press the “Donate” button below. Thanks so much!


JR said...

Excellent idea Ken! I'd like to think the readers of this blog could contribute more than the $90 needed to make it $1,000. I trust we'll receive updates on the total as it grows?

Ken said...

JR- Thanks! I'll provide updates for sure. In fact, maybe I can figure out how to install a little graph on the side of the blog to show its growth. I'd absolutely love to make the award bigger, and give it out annually, but I really have no idea how many people read this blog. (Blogspot's reader counter is kinda crappy.) Plus, I've never raised money before so I figured I'd start with a reachable sum. We'll see, but baby steps for now.

Nick G said...

Awesome idea Ken. Very generous of you to give this money away when it could have paid for your groceries for a number of months. I really hope the money comes through.

This scholarship is just for high school students, correct?

Ken said...

Nick G--Thanks for the kind words, but I don't want to come across as generous. This money isn't mine, and if it is, it's no better than blood money. Your comment is a good one because it tells me I should do a better job clarifying things. I want this scholarship to be for college students on the verge of graduating. I want the winner to be a college student seeking a "worldly" experience. I think the combination of the two is crucial, since each experience complements the other.

Also--and this comment's for everyone--if you have any input/suggestions on the details/requirements of the scholarship, please do share.

PS: you can see the actual requirements by clicking on "scholarship" underneath my main picture banner.

Anonymous said...

Ken, I am greatly encouraged to know that there is at least one person on this planet who thinks as you do about formal education and worldy experience. I find it demoralizing to hear about higher education as if it were only concerned with vocational training. You give me hope for the future.

Thank you, Tom in Fl, a retired senior citizen.

Nick G said...

Ahh, woohoo! I'll be applying then.

Thanks for this. Huge respect.

ps. not to rush you, but I'd still greatly appreciate a reply on that e-mail I sent you.

kenavo said...

Some thoughts about giving, receiving and money.
Needing less money meens more freedom.
Giving and receiving should be in balance.
A simple life takes less from our planet.

I understand little of US system, but good students will find their way, with or without your help.
You are a good exempel.
That is the greatest gift; to inspire others.

Ken said...

Tom—I’m disillusioned that the great majority of students consider their education as “career training.” Few think about their development of character because school, to them, is more about blazing a path to a lucrative career. In some senses, you can’t blame them—it’s a tough economy, there are few jobs, and they’ll need some way to pay off their debts. But it’s just a shame… I think a nation suffers when it's comprised almost entirely of "specialists."

Nick—Hopefully I’ll get to it this weekend. The subject you’ve broached is one that deserves thoughtful introspection.

Kenavo—Nicely said. You’re right—they don’t need my (or our) money; they can do it on their own. I’d like to consider the scholarship, though, a symbolic gesture. I’ve never come across a scholarship that supports worldly pursuits unrelated to school and careers. It’s as if—with the exclusion of such a scholarship—that a message is being sent that such pursuits are not worthy of one’s time, which is in accord with the message our society at large sends to its young people. If I can encourage just one person to follow through with his/her dreams—with a little bit of cash and some moral support—than I’d consider the hours I’ve spent writing on this blog well spent.

Nick G said...

"I’m disillusioned that the great majority of students consider their education as “career training.” Few think about their development of character because school, to them, is more about blazing a path to a lucrative career. In some senses, you can’t blame them—it’s a tough economy, there are few jobs, and they’ll need some way to pay off their debts. But it’s just a shame… I think a nation suffers when it's comprised almost entirely of 'specialists.' "

Wow, well said Ken! This sums up my education philosophy.

Trish said...

I think most people do think of college as career training. It seems that jobs these days have such specific requirements. My own parents certainly felt this way - helping me choose a major that would result in gainful employment, and I have talked to numerous parents of high school kids, worried about what kind of a job their kid's major is leading them to. What would help is role models, happy people who consider themselves successful but who didn't follow a traditional path. Everyone is impressed with a doctor or lawyer, or engineer, but no one talks about people like Michael Reynolds, an architect who builds sustainable housing, in a very non traditional way (watch his doc 'garbage warrior'). I certainly wish I had realized that college is not career training and had thought more about life experience. That college is not career training was never discussed, not by high school counselors, or even colleges themselves.

Mike said...

Interesting idea Ken. I put something in to help try to get you up to $1k. Though, if it were me, I'd have pocketed that $900 long ago :-)

Ken said...

Trish—amazing and disillusioning, isn’t it? We’re not just talking about college here; we’re talking about people’s lives. And we’re not just talking about people’s lives; we’re talking about the health of our democracy, the makeup of our society, etc. These issues run deep. Think about when a nation has too many lawyers. No, I’m not talking about a nation overrun with environmental lawyers or people representing the ACLU, but corporate lawyers—because those sorts of firms are among the few who can actually pay enough money so that grads can pay off their enormous debts. Having a bunch of money hungry, self-interested, unempathetic professionals running around must have dire consequences on huge sectors of our population.

I’m largely talking out of my ass because I have no statistical evidence or anecdotes to support these claims, but it’s a likely consequence. I’m less uncomfortable asserting that the level of ignorance in our society is linked to the narrow and specialized, instead of broad and liberal educations our citizenry is exposed to.

My friend just sent me this lovely quote, which is faintly related to the discussion: "If a man is a fool, you don't train him out of being a fool by sending him to university. You merely turn him into a trained fool, ten times more dangerous." Desmond Bagley (1923-1983), British journalist and novelist.

Mike—You saint! I was just on your blog this morning!

Also, thanks to for a generous contribution. Looks like I may eventually hit $1000 after all.

Brian said...

I LIKE IT!! :-)


JanaLee said...

Clearly I am stating the obvious but I will do so anyway, since I seem to be especially talented at it: there has to be a way to make sure this scholarship goes to someone who actually has demonstrated financial need...

Ken said...


JanaLee-- good point.. I thought about this, but wasn't sure how to deal with it. I want to encourage students to apply who plan on going on their adventures soon, so I worried that the scholarship money wouldn't be put to good use if it was given to someone hopelessly drowning in debt. Yet, at the same time, I don't want to give it to students who've had the luxury of parents who paid their whole tuition. Nor do I know how to obtain proof about their financial situations. It's a tricky issue, but I've included a question about debt load on the questionnaire to help me make certain determinations. Thanks for the feedback.

Kari Ola said...

This 'sounds' great and all, but I'm tired of trying to make it without debt in this world of have's and have not's. I'm going to write a kick ass dream onto paper just to write feverishly about a dream that will remain a dream, besides one thousand federal notes will barely pay for a day in my dream of fun times without homework!

~* (aliyah) *~ said...

@Ken/JanaLee: I don't think it's necessarily fair to exclude applicants who put down "none" to the graduating with debt question. There must be other students besides me who have scholarships paying for a good portion of their tuition, but without the scholarships, would very easily have debt to pay off as well. In my case, even though I anticipate graduating college with no debt, this does not at all mean that I have extra money laying around to travel, etc. and as such, I do plan on applying for this scholarship. I certainly hope that my application is not immediately excluded just because I will not graduate with debt.

Ken said...

Kari--You're right, $1000 won't do much. I'd like to think of the scholarship as more of a symbol, or a gesture of moral support.

aliyah--You raise a good point. What I want to avoid is giving money to people who are already rich, or who've been handed a free education. If someone graduates debt-free because they've worked hard and lived frugally, then they should be considered alongside everyone else. More than anything, I'm looking for the boldness of one's adventure and the quality of one's character and who I think will get the most out of their journey