A "C" To Success

(Broadcast 5/24/01)

When President Bush recently addressed Yale s graduating seniors, he gave a hearty "well done" to those who got straight A s, but consoled the C students by telling them that they, too, could be president of the United States. Apparently, he was referring to his own less than stellar academic performance as a Yale undergraduate.

A C-average as the key to success? Actually the President was on to something. Studies show that students who graduate from college with straight-A s have less chance of becoming chief executives of anything, and also are less likely to become rich later in life, than are students with more modest grades.

A recruiter from a major investment bank told me recently he no longer even bothers to interview straight-A students from Ivy League universities, because -- he says -- they ve spent their whole lives jumping obediently through every hoop placed in front of them. He wants young people who are out to beat the system -- who are innovative and aggressive. Says he s had the most success with athletes who graduated with B averages from middle-sized universities.

This shouldn t be surprising. In the emerging economy, success turns more on doggedness and creativity than on any particular set of credentials.

But of all the attributes a new college grad can possess, among the most valuable are connections through classmates to adults who can open the right doors. A roommate s father who owns a radio station in the midwest, for example. A college friend s mother who works in an advertising agency in New York. If truth be told, the economic value of a college education often has less to do with what s learned than with who is met.

The ease with which young people move into the world of work depends most of all on their parents, and parents connections. Forget grades, forget recruiters, forget roommates. Parents are America s major job-placement agencies. This is one reason, by the way, that kids from poorer families without connections have a much harder time finding good jobs, even if they get through college.

So in the end, George W. Bush was right. A "C" student can indeed become president of the United States. But it helps if the parents of that C student happen to be wealthy and know the right people. And if you really want to be president, it s especially helpful if your mom or dad was one before you.

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