I know this sounds strange, but I have always been impressed by people who just know things. I think we all have that friend who somehow knows seemingly-random-yet-always-opportune tidbits of information. This summer, I decided that I wanted to be one of these people. I figured if I started to read more and listen to podcasts, I surely would start to be able to contribute interesting anecdotes and facts to conversations. So, naturally, I sifted through the top charts of Apple’s podcast selection until I found one that stuck out to me: “Revisionist History” by Malcolm Gladwell. This series is about, as Gladwell says, “things overlooked and misunderstood.” It seemed like a good place to start.
One of the most interesting episodes was titled “My Little Hundred Million,” which definitely caught my attention. This episode centered around the story of Hank Rowan’s $100 million donation to Glassboro State University in 1922. Rowan was an entrepreneur who founded an industrial furnace company called Inductotherm out of his garage. His gift kickstarted a spree of higher education philanthropy that has continued to this day. However, Gladwell wisely points out that the rich billionaires since Rowan have missed the true inspiration that Rowan advocated. There have been 87 donations of over $100 million since Rowan’s, but none to the savoir of a struggling public school with a standing endowment of $787,000. Instead, most have gone to Ivy League institutions and other large schools with already-massive endowments. In the podcast, Rowan describes how he knew his money would lead to greater impact at Glassboro State.
“My little hundred million wouldn’t have made hardly any difference at all [at a larger institution]. It wouldn’t make the difference that’s gonna make down here…I enjoy making a difference in this world,” he says.
Gladwell continues on to share conversations with students and faculty at the university. Interestingly, he also ties in a conversation with John Hennessy, the then- president of Stanford University. Gladwell does a great job at juxtaposing the two viewpoints in play: first, the idea of building from the bottom up and raising as many young students with your money; second, donating to the richest institutions with the idea they will be able to better serve top-tier talent. Gladwell makes his viewpoint clear as he calls himself (and Rowan) a guy who values improving the weakest links before the greatest links.
I think this episode stuck out to me because of the implications of this quote. I don’t have $100 million to make a difference, but the principle is the same. Make a difference by paving a new path, not by cementing over one that has already been forged. I think that is a valuable thing to think about for a lot of people. As a college student, I would say the most valuable thing I have to offer is my time. So, coming into this year, I have made an effort to view my time like Rowan viewed his $100 mil- lion. And I think this is good advice for everyone starting out their Colgate careers as well. Spend your time where it will make the most impact.
Contact Matt Gentile at [email protected]