NPR logo Prestige School: St. Olaf Forever!


Prestige School: St. Olaf Forever!


If I say the name of the college I attended, you'll laugh. You will laugh and you will ask me this question: "Like in The Golden Girls?" Yes, I graduated from St. Olaf College. It is not Yale. It's not the University of Wisconsin, Madison. It was exactly the right place. So much so that it was the only school I applied to. Early decision. And I never looked back.

I had visited other colleges and had a huge pile of viewbooks and catalogs on my desk during that summer between my junior and senior years of high school. But here's why I chose St. Olaf. There's this mission statement that still warms my heart. It says life more than a livelihood and that the school focuses on what is ultimately worthwhile. It says education should develop the whole person in mind, body and spirit.

The mission statement had something to do with it. The location — rural Minnesota — also did. I was raised in Florida and had my fill of heat and humidity. But the idea of the Midwest also intrigued me. I had heard it was a place you could actually trust other people. And that turned out to be mostly true. St. Olaf had a Great Books program and impressive English and religion departments. It also had a public radio station — the late, great WCAL — where I could work evenings and weekends. And that part-time job has turned into something better than a career. It's a vocation.

The school's mission statement has a section at the end that I think works quite nicely with why I work in public radio today. St. Olaf strives to teach critical thinking and heighten moral sensitivity. It encourages students to seekers of truth and lead lives of unselfish service. And it challenges people to be responsible and knowledgeable citizens of the world.

As it turns out I did go to a big, important graduate school. 'Misery' far too gentle a word to describe that experience.

I suspect a lot of us who chose a small, obscure Liberal Arts college couldn't care less about prestige. Because I don't think there needs to be a choice between the best school and the right school. My school was both for me. And I've never minded the Golden Girls jokes. I'm a big fan.