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PROJECTS :: THE MSA LETTERS :: 2004 MSA LETTER
My name is M.J. Bauer, and I'm resident of St. Louis, MO, currently living on the campus of ___ University. As a college sophomore here at the university, Iím working to complete my bachelorís degree in psychology and English. In another two weeks Iíll have attained junior standing here at the university, meaning that my undergraduate education will be half over. I bring up my age not to turn you off to my words—I hope that you wonít hold my age against me when considering my opinion—but to note the time.
Two years have passed since I turned 18 and was first able to vote as a Missouri citizen. I was a senior in high school that year, earning honors as a National Merit Scholar and National Science Foundation Scholar. I graduated 7th in my class in high school and could have earned scholarships to any Ivy League school of my choice. My family and friends—in fact, almost all the people Iíve ever known—reside here in Missouri, though, and I saw no reason to leave the state. I only applied to in-state schools, and here Iíve stayed. In two years, Iíll be looking for a place to attend graduate school and/or get a job, and again, I donít feel like I need to go very far to find an excellent school. As someone who has held multiple editorial positions with my universityís student newspaper, I have my sights set on the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou).
As you surely know, Mizzou is located in Columbia, which is the town I fell in love with four years ago while attending the 2000 Missouri Scholars Academy (MSA). Iíd like to attend graduate school there and I may even raise my kids there. The man Iím planning to marry calls Columbia home. He attended MSA with me in 2000, though we didnít meet until 2 years ago at an MSA Alumni Day, the Academyís summer reunion. I tell you all of this not to be self-indulgent and waste your time with my life story, but to let you know that my interests lie with Missouri. Iíve lived here for 20 years now, and I can see myself living here until I have children and grandchildren of my own.
Two years ago was the last time I heeded the call to write to the men and women of the Missouri state legislature about funding cuts to MSA and the Missouri Fine Arts Academy (MFAA). I was dismayed and angry when I found out just today that tomorrow, on Monday, April 12th, 2004, the Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee is set to make a decision about funding for the two academies (MSA and MFAA). Youíve received this letter because youíre a member of that committee. As you know, the academiesí budgets are on the cutting block for the fiscal year 2005, which surely comes as a result of the tight times Missouri is suffering through with education budget shortfalls and other economic strains. I donít think cutting budgets for MSA and MFAA, however, will be the solution to our problems. On the contrary, I believe that these academies are far too valuable to this state to give up without a fight.
One particularly relevant example of the consequences that draw nigh as we think about cutting budgets for the academies can be found in the situation the state of North Dakota has found itself suffering through recently. The state has made headlines in national news with its ďbrain drainĒ—while that state has one of the best education systems in the country, intelligent young North Dakotans (1) arenít staying in-state for college and (2) arenít returning after they leave. That state is losing intelligent young folks left and right, and when the young leave, with them go prospects for furthering economic prosperity.
Thatís whatís happening in North Dakota—now look at Missouri. Given the current state of Missouriís economy, I donít think we can afford to lose more of our young students to other states, lest we find ourselves in the same position that North Dakota and other states have found themselves in recently. Missouriís best long-term prospects lie with providing a hospitable and nurturing environment for the intelligent young men and women who have the potential to turn things around in this state. The students attending the Academy this summer are the ones who in ten yearsí time will be establishing corporations, joining the legislature, and working to improve things here in Missouri.
MSA is no gamble—itís already demonstrated its potential to inspire students to achieve great things. The members of the first class of students to attend MSA in 1985 turn 35 years old this year, meaning many of them are well into their careers. Iíve personally talked to older alumni of MSA who are starring in off-Broadway plays, working for Microsoft, composing original music, doing original scientific research, finishing up Ph.D.ís, teaching, studying abroad, and much more. There will always be intelligent people born and raised in Missouri, but programs like MSA give us this amazing network of intellectually curious colleagues that we can depend on to bounce ideas off of, collaborate with on projects, and help us through problems we face daily.
In a more existential sense, I take comfort in the knowledge that in pretty much any place I go in this state, thereís probably a former Scholar living there who can help me out if I need anything. If I need a place to stay and Iím far from home in Sikeston or Kirksville, I call friends from MSA. The level of trust fostered between students at MSA allows us to almost take such favors for granted—such is the gift that the Academy has given us. Part of the reason I didnít worry about going out-of-state to find an intellectual community in college was that I already have an intellectual community here in Missouri. I have MSA friends at universities all over the state now, from Truman State to WUSTL to UMKC, Mizzou, SEMO, and UMSL. Iíve thought about living in other parts of the country, places where summer humidity and winter chills donít chafe as much—but as Iíve thought about it more, Iíve realized that the major support network I have is here in Missouri. While Iíve only known most scholars for four years now, these are people whoíve seemed like an essential part of my life since the day we met.
I have to emphasize the fact that my support for MSA and MFAA doesnít stem from elitism, but rather from experience. This isnít about the intellectual and artistic elite making a bid for unfair preferential treatment—itís about what I and approximately 8,400 others will have experienced by the time this summerís MSA and MFAA have concluded. I (and others) continue to support these programs because the Academy let us know what it was like to be understood, providing us with a foundation of curiosity and experiential learning that many, if not most, of us never found anywhere else prior to that point. Even now, four years later, I constantly find myself drawing upon thought processes that were sparked by experiences I had at the Academy. Even now, I find it difficult to describe the sense of utter open-ended possibility I found at the Academy—but please believe me when I say that MSA influenced my way of thinking more than virtually anything else Iíve experienced.
Throughout my education, I benefited from such programs as Saturday School, a program for preschool age children, and PROBE and Enrichment gifted programs provided by my school district. Before I attended MSA, though, I still had no idea of what was out there in an intellectual sense. Before the Academy I was about thisclose to becoming a B student, an intellectual slacker—while I was intelligent, I didnít really look beyond the daily morass of high school life to see the opportunities latent around me. MSA opened my eyes to philosophy, mathematics, and other systems of thought that had previously escaped my view. After the Academy I started a personal quest for knowledge and philosophy that Iíve continued to this day. Between the end of the Academy and the end of my senior year of high school, I read 70+ books on topics as diverse as quantum physics, psychology, philosophy, and karma doctrine. Iíve continued to study those topics and the intersections between them here at the university.
These days Iím really looking for that next thing, something that will have as much of a guiding influence in my life as MSA did. In the letter I wrote during my senior year of high school to senators and representatives like yourself, I noted, ďI can honestly say that the Missouri Scholars Academy was the definitive experience of my high school career.Ē Looking back, I think that statement still quite accurately describes the effect MSA had on my consciousness. At MSA, I met people with whom I could connect on a level beyond that of everyday interaction, people who I still call "kindred spirits" because their intelligence allows me to communicate so fluidly with them. I made friends there who I keep in touch with to this day, even though theyíre at universities halfway across the state (or the country). Now that Iím in college, I find myself searching for another such experience, one that will imbue my college experience with as much significance as high school took on for me after the Academy. Itís difficult to imagine another event having as much of an influence on my life, though, as the Academy did.
I highly doubt that Iíd be sitting here in my dorm room right now, for instance, writing this letter to you, if I hadnít attended MSA. Iíd have no idea of how much is at stake, balanced on this moment. Iíve noticed that every time I sit down to write a letter about this, I come up with more and more things to write about. I can see the Academyís effects branching and spreading in my life, present in every task I undertake. Iím sure that youíve received letters from other students and their families who are just as dedicated to the Academy as I am, and Iíd like to stress that this is not occurring at random. The very fact that we have this grassroots movement composed of hundreds, if not thousands of people who are interested in preserving the Academy should tell you something—weíre willing to take time out of our schedules to send you our thoughts on the matter because this is something that matters to us.
Further, I realized a little while ago that I have another personal stake in the matter—my brother is five years younger than me, and Iíve been hoping for the past 4 years now that heíd have a shot at attending MSA. The Academy heíd be able to attend, however, is in 2005—the year that goes on the cutting block tomorrow. While simply being allowed to apply is no guarantee that one will make it into the program, my brother is probably smarter than I am, and heís more self-aware and cynical by this point in his high school career than I was at that point. Thereís no telling how much he could benefit from attending the Academy—if heís only given the chance to attend.
I hope that youíll take my experiences into account when you cast your vote tomorrow on the matter of MSA/MFAA budget cuts. Please make your vote count on behalf of the gifted community of Missouri and the alumni of the Missouri Scholars Academy and Missouri Fine Arts Academy. My hopes—yea, all of our hopes—lie with you and your fellow committee members. I thank you for taking the time to read this letter and consider my point of view.