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Saturday, April 20, 2024
The Observer

Ask more of society. Ask more of yourself.

"Ask more of business." Whether walking through its building or perusing its website, any visitor to Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business is quickly introduced to Mendoza's mantra. Mendoza explicitly speaks of the need for greater "integrity" and increased attention on the "greater good." Implicitly, the mantra states business is not doing enough. It suggests business is failing us.
We should expect more of business. This call to action is the rock upon which Mendoza seeks to differentiate itself. More than any balance sheet or audit, it seeks to send forth students in pursuit of both purpose and profit. Its students are required to delve into business ethics and attend lectures on the ability of business to transform the world. Thousands of students have passed through the hallowed finance classroom of Professor Carl Ackermann, learning not only rates of return and asset valuation but how to use one's future money for good. Yesterday, Notre Dame and the National Football League launched a joint venture to help active and retired players invest their money to yield societal as well as monetary returns. Overwhelmingly, students are taught to both expect and do more with their business educations than merely make money. It's a hard argument to fault, but business is not the only realm of society in which we should ask more.
We should ask more of our schools. In an age in which the United States enjoys immense wealth, millions still receive educations that fall far short of what our future generations deserve. Many are abandoned quickly at the start, as those born into poverty receive little to no assistance in traversing obstacles erected far before their arrival on this earth. Others still are abandoned during their schooling as inflexible, inefficient and ineffective teacher unions war with hardline politicians, leaving the students to suffer in the crossfire. Even those who make it successfully through high school must confront the expense of higher education. Tuition and associated expenses are racing further and further away from affordability, absent any rational explanation or connection to inflation. Indisputably, we can ask more of our educational system.
We should ask more of our role models. I, for one, am tired of seeing the embarrassments society is enamored with. I'm tired of Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Lindsay Lohan, Jersey Shore and pretty much reality TV as a whole. I'm tired of Heisman Trophy winners with felony convictions and celebrities with drug addictions. I can't take many more 'family values' politicians with mistresses or governors with prostitutes. I grow disappointed when Justin Bieber gets more attention than casualties in Afghanistan and Dennis Rodman gets more coverage than, well, just about anyone else. Surely we can find better representatives of society.
We should ask more of our government. In a Congress in which scandal is more common than compromise and bickering more typical than progress, surely someone - anyone - can do better. When we have a Senate that celebrates passing a budget for the first time in four years, there is a problem. When we have a House that votes for the umpteenth time on ideological bills going nowhere to gain political points, there is a problem. When Congressional leadership fluctuates between politeness and open hostility in their relations with one another, there is a problem. When the tone in Washington is as bipolar as a scene from "Silver Linings Playbook," there is a problem. Something ought to change. Americans should expect more.
We should ask more of our communities and of ourselves. I recently came across Jon Favreau's valedictory address from the College of the Holy Cross. Favreau, now President Barack Obama's director of speechwriting, tells his audience we each have a role to play in our community, from "soccer coaches," "activists" and "PTA members" to "organizers" and "mentors." He reminds us being a member of our community is a job we all must hold, in addition to whatever profession we pursue. While John F. Kennedy famously told us to ask ourselves "what you can do for your country," he could just as easily have replaced country with community. For nearly every problem we face, as individuals or as a nation, communities have the power to help remedy them. If we're to start somewhere, our community is as good a place as any to begin. As busy as our lives may seem - or as busy as we may declare them to be - I'd venture, nearly all of us can spare some time for good.
In a time of a new presidential term, a new Pope and a rising economy, some have speculated this spring will be a time of hope and optimism. While I can't resist embracing this idea, I'm mindful that many are skeptical. Some have long been pessimists; others more recently guarded after their sense of "hope and change" fluttered during President Obama's first term. Indeed, grand change may not come from our educational system or government. But this is no cause for pessimism. At its purest level, government and bureaucracy is not where change originates. Change doesn't come through apathy, cranky complaints or whiny columns in The Observer. It comes from action in our communities, schools and societies. It comes from volunteers and advocates, from "tee-ball umpires" to "Big Brothers and Sisters." It comes from a common bond that compels us to help those we know and those we don't. It comes from asking more of business, of government, of communities and of society. But most importantly, it comes from asking more of ourselves. 
Matt Miklavic is a sophomore studying political science and business from Cape Elizabeth, Maine.  He can be reached at
    The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.