September 15, 2010

By hammersmith

Twenty. Think about that number for a minute. That’s even less than the number of hours in a day. Twenty isn’t just any number – it’s special, an indicator, if you please, that something or someone is part of a select group.

Think about the number of groups you are in that have 20 people or less—maybe a sports team, maybe an academic society, maybe a band, or maybe just your family. I’ll venture to guess that each one of these groups has a special place in your heart, not simply because of the small number of members in that group, but because of the interactions, the memories, and the bonds formed as an integral part of the group.

The Flinn Scholars are no different. Every year, about 20 people are bestowed with the honor of Flinn Scholar, becoming a part of an entity that I can say, after just one year, is possibly the most special group I have ever had the pleasure of joining.

But enough about pure numbers and philosophy for now. As you contend with the various challenges of your senior year in high school, a number of deadlines loom, one of which I hope to convince you to mark more clearly than the rest: the deadline for the Flinn Scholarship Application.

I imagine there are a number of different schools of thought regarding the Flinn Scholars Program because I was there a couple of years ago, talking about it with mentors and peers alike. I imagine you might be scared, maybe confident, maybe indifferent, maybe even convinced that you’re too good for the Flinn Scholarship.

Let me first address those of you who feel rather intimidated or overwhelmed by the whole prospect of the Flinn, who may be indifferent to the idea of applying, who feel like it’s too much work, or who are still thinking why even bother apply for something I never have a chance to win. First off, believe in yourself and stand for what you believe in. Sure it’s cliché, but I promise you: the Flinn Foundation is not looking for current world leaders, industry experts, published researchers, record-holding athletes, renowned philosophers, or critically-acclaimed artists. (Although, if that’s what you’re looking for, here are a few Flinn Scholar alumni.)

To me, a Flinn is not marked by those achievements, but by the willingness to pursue an idea, a passion – even a whim – with full drive and determination, with commitment, and with an open mind. It’s not about what you have done as much as about what you can do if you put your mind to it. It’s not about being the best at everything as much as it is striving to improve in everything you do.

You don’t need to have accomplished your life goals or even know what those are, but what you do need is a fire in your belly, a willingness to go after the things you find interesting, the things you love, the things you really want. And I know each and every one of you has that in you. Now’s your chance to show it to a foundation that is eager to hear from you and maybe even win a scholarship that will allow you to share your passions with the whole world.

There are not a lot of times in life when someone is going to basically hand you the equivalent of a huge wad of money and access to some of the greatest minds in the world if you can convince them that you’re passionate enough to follow your dreams. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me.

And now to address those out there that see the Flinn as just another opportunity, never as good as a Harvard, an MIT, or a Stanford. The following words are very, very close to my heart because I found myself in this group as I approached the end of high school. As winter break of my senior year neared, I saw myself as the perfect candidate for a top-ranked university and I was convinced that anything less would be a failure. To make a long story short, I saw the Flinn as an option that would be nice if I got it, but as something I would never, ever take over an offer to an Ivy League or some other prestigious institution.

Boy was I arrogant and wrong. Take a minute to consider what you know about the top universities in the United States. Now take a minute to consider what you know about what the Flinn Scholars have done at Arizona’s universities and beyond. Maybe what you know about the latter is not as extensive because the Flinn name won’t ring as many bells around the world as Harvard. But the achievements of the Flinn Scholars? That’s an entirely different story.

If you’re looking for a purely logical and numerical argument, I challenge you to compare the achievements of the 500 Flinn Scholars that have ever been named to the achievements of 500 of the best people from the top brand-name universities. I think you may be surprised.

Name a well-known nationally-competitive scholarship. I assure you a Flinn Scholar has won it.

Name a geographic region. I assure you a Flinn Scholar has not only visited it, but has performed significant work in the area, in fields ranging from science, to art, to medicine, to politics, to law, to you-name-it.

Name a profession. I assure you a Flinn Scholar has become not only proficient, but has helped redefine it.

These kinds of achievements, I think you will agree, are at the very least tantamount to what any graduate of a top university has achieved.

And then there are the intangibles, the things that make being a Flinn Scholar an experience that you will not find anywhere else. There is nothing more electric than being inside a football or basketball stadium with crazy college students as your school wins a rivalry game that actually matters in the greater context of college sports. There is nothing that parallels taking a trip to Europe with a group of friends who all share the same passion for life and learning as you do, let alone being tagged in over 200 of the most epic photographs that will ever flood the walls of Facebook, and in the meantime being challenged and discovering more about more things than you realized even existed.

Plain and simple, there is no other opportunity that offers you all the benefits of a large, public university with nearly unlimited access to research and faculty while also immediately placing you in a select group of talented individuals with exciting potential. And you won’t pay a cent. You might even make money.

Being a Flinn offers you the best possible experience to grow as an individual while also learning what it is to live life in the so-called real world, where people don’t live in clusters of 6,000 to 15,000 people on isolated campuses far from cities, where only people with a certain GPA are allowed to be, where those who haven’t yet achieved but may have even greater potential are barred from entering.

Let me put it this way: if you’re thinking about not even applying for the Flinn, or disregarding it because you don’t see it as an opportunity that is as good as going to some top-flight school, remember that you’re turning down the opportunity to join one of the most tightly-knit groups in the world, an opportunity that will never come around again. The camaraderie that exists between the Flinn Scholars is something truly special.

As my fellow ’09 Flinn Hugh Chung put it once, “It’s like the Flinn Foundation cherry-picks some of the most intelligent yet down-to-earth people and says ‘Hey, we have a group of new best friends for you.’ It’s what makes the Flinn special, knowing everybody by name, and not by some school ring.” There are many people that can say they are both Flinn Scholars and Ivy Leaguers, but I guarantee you none of them got their undergraduate degree from an Ivy League school.

To use simple numbers again, there are only 20 people each year (or just 17 in the case of my class!) that have the privilege to call themselves newly-minted Flinn Scholars, a number far, far lower than the multiple thousand that make up every freshman Ivy League class. It’s a small enough number to form a truly special entity but it’s large enough to still be a community – not to mention you will also be a part of the greater Flinn community that extends to every nook and cranny of the world. Being named a Flinn Scholar offers you the chance to become one of only about 500 people in history to win such an honor, and if nothing else, I hope this is enough fodder to at least convince you to apply.

In the final analysis, applying for the Flinn Scholarship is really as good as a win-win situation can be. Applying is nothing but the beginning, a simple journey that may prove to be the most rewarding decision you’ve ever made. I guarantee you will make friends during the process, through meeting other applicants, current Flinn Scholars, and famous faculty members. And regardless of the outcome, I assure you that the experience you will gain simply from applying (and hopefully interviewing!) is experience that will serve you very well in the future.

One thing is for sure: you have a zero percent chance of receiving the scholarship if you don’t apply, and we all know, even 20 is greater than that.

Ready to apply? Get started.

Want to read more reasons why you should? Here are words of encouragement from Nesima Aberra(’09), Emma Kleiner (’09), Blake Thompson (’09), Yichao Wang (’06), and Michael Weingartner (’09).