Thankful for rejection

We can choose to see the UO and Oregon as Witz does: unremarkable, parochial, and as a second choice. Alternatively, we can embrace a school and a state that punch above their weight.

Kevin Frazier edits The Oregon Way between Zoom classes “at” the UC Berkeley School of Law.

Amid chaos, contagions, and conflagrations, there’s still a lot to be thankful for this year. Looking back, I’m particularly thankful for Claremont McKenna College (CMC) rejecting my college application. I guess it’s odd to be thankful for your dream school rejecting you. But, when that door slammed shut, a green and yellow one opened. Rather than head south to CMC, I decided to “settle” for the University of Oregon—still south, just significantly less so. 

According to Billy Witz of The New York Times, I attended an “otherwise unremarkable” university. Witz believes that the University of Oregon’s only significant attribute is its sports program. And, in Witz’s warped perception of the UO, Phil Knight is the only alum worth discussing. 

Billy, consider this a formal invitation to tour Oregon’s campus with me. While we walk, I’ll bring some other Ducks to your attention, including: 

  • Renee James, former president of Intel; 

  • Lila Bell Wallace, co-founder of Reader's Digest; 

  • Ty Burrell, of Modern Family fame;

  • Hilda Heine, former President of the Marshall Islands; 

  • Esther Pohl Lovejoy, among the first female physicians in the state and a fierce advocate for women's suffrage; 

  • and Brent Walth, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer. 

All of these remarkable individuals somehow managed to come from an “unremarkable” university. 

I anticipate that Billy won’t change his mind even after this impressive name dropping exercise. After all, for a long time, I shared his doubts about the caliber of the school; there’s a reason it was not my first choice…(though not wanting to follow in my brother’s footsteps may have been a big one).

Importantly, my tour would not end after our initial chat, instead it would largely focus on attending (even if remotely) one class that I believe will shift his perspective of the school. I’d coordinate with Dan Tichenor, the Philip H. Knight Chair of Social Science, to allow Billy to observe the three-hour long seminar that all Wayne Morse Scholars participate in every Friday. Surely Billy would chuckle about Professor Tichenor’s title, but that’s part of my plan. Though Phil Knight is known for his athletic contributions, his other contributions have been used to shore up some of the most important programs that exist on campus. It’s those programs and the students that benefit from that define the UO, not the source of the funding. 

That distinction would become obvious to Witz when, for 180 minutes, he saw Oregon’s future before his eyes. The Scholars are the state’s brightest political minds and most impassioned advocates and activists. Last week, Bridget Barrett, a member of the inaugural class of Scholars, was interviewed on CNN to discuss the impacts of Parler, a new social media platform for conservative audiences. Last year, Ben Bowman, part of the same Scholar class as Bridget, led an inspirational grassroots campaign to earn a seat on the Tigard-Tualatin School Board. Tomorrow, two Scholars—Sravya Tadepalli and Sumit Kapur—will interview for the Rhodes Scholarship.

As you can see, these Scholars hit the ground running and are already transforming Oregon and contributing to the future of our nation. I am confident that Witz would see that current Scholars—students as young as 18- and 19-years old—have the same potential as Bridget, Ben, Sravya, and Sumit. 

We can choose to see the UO and Oregon as Witz does: unremarkable, parochial, and as a second choice. Alternatively, we can embrace a school and a state that punch above their weight when it comes to changing norms, challenging ideas, and checking inequality. 

I think we should opt for the latter. We ought to be thankful for the institutions and individuals that have given so much to this state. We ought to celebrate the places where Oregonians of all backgrounds can gather, share views, and develop solutions. We ought to use the ignorant and flippant remarks of people like Billy to fuel our commitment to investing in Oregon’s future generations. 

Thank you, CMC, for rejecting me.

Thank you, Billy, for motivating me.

Thank you, readers, for being a part of The Oregon Way.

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