Dear Rudd Scholars:

Someone once told me that education is a way for older people to transfer their knowledge into the heads of young people.  And now that I’m getting older, I believe that to be true.  So, I guess it’s only natural that I should want to start a scholarship program; not only to help kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford college, but also to share a bit of what I’ve picked up over the years with a few people who might benefit from it. 

When we started thinking about putting together a scholarship we knew we wanted to help students for whom the financial burden of higher education made its attainment nearly impossible.  We wanted to work with kids that hoped to attend college in Kansas and make their lives here after graduation.  We wanted to find what my friend Ace Greenberg used to call:  “the PSDs” – kids that are poor, smart and driven.  So, we created a scholarship that has financial need as its basic requirement, but uses a merit based evaluation and retention strategy.  We pick the smartest, strongest, most driven kids we can find, then we hold them to very high performance standards. When a student earns a Rudd Scholarship it is not because they are part of some charitable experiment, it is because they deserved to be chosen; they’ve worked hard, earned good grades and demonstrated exceptional character. 

It took us about a year to build the program.  During this year, I had ample time to reflect on my own life and the lives of people I went to college with here in Kansas. Most of these people went on to be pretty happy, successful people.  I wanted to incorporate into the program some of the things that I felt had shaped our lives during our college years.  So we did.

I know a lot of people outside of our state think Kansas is a dull, uninteresting place to grow up  – that people born and raised  here are a bunch of Hayseeds who never go on to amount to much.  But the truth is far from that.  And, now that I’ve got more life behind me than in front of me, I can say without a doubt, that the best people I’ve known in my life have been from Kansas.  The Midwestern values of humility, hard work and honesty are the bedrock of an entrepreneurial life that can go a long way. These are the values our program will seek to reinforce. 

It turns out that if you run a search of successful people from Kansas, the list is about fourteen pages long and includes Nobel Laureates, Artists, Writers, Aviators, Astronauts, Businesspeople, Entertainers, Government Officials, Politicians, Religious Leaders and Military Personnel and even a US President.   Some of the people on that list I’ve been lucky enough to call my friends: Ace Greenberg, Chairman of Bear Stearns, Jamie Coulter, Dan Taylor and the Carney Brothers who developed the largest pizza chain in the world, Pizza Hut, Johnny Stevens, a Wichita Real Estate Developer, Bill Parcells, Coach of the New York Giants, and Danny Glickman, Former Secretary of Agriculture -- to name just a few.  So, don’t think of yourselves as doomed by the curse of geography for having grown up in Kansas, you just might be destined for success because of it. Kansas is a terrific place to grow up, raise a family and find a job you love.

I started work in the family business, Standard Beverage Corporation, when I was in high school.  I didn’t know a thing about the liquor business, but over time, and after a lot of stupid mistakes, with the help of my dad and the men and women who worked in the company, I began to understand some of the basic principles that would serve me well when I took over the company in the years to come. And college was also critical to filling in my knowledge gaps so that I could do the work and help others succeed. College also introduced me to lifelong friends who also helped me succeed where I would have otherwise failed.

I’ve tried to build some of these things into the Rudd Scholarship Program because I think they made a difference in my life.  For example, we ask Rudd Scholars to live in the dorms, so you become part of a strong cohort and form friendships that will last a lifetime.  We do this because I truly believe it made a difference for me to have the friends I’ve had throughout my lifetime – and I met most of them here in Wichita when I was in school.

Our program is academically rigorous.  We require Rudd Scholars to maintain a 3.0 grade point average and graduate in 4 years.  And we take this seriously.  There are no exceptions.   We expect you to work hard in and out of the classroom and demonstrate a commitment to each other and your community every day.  We give a lot and ask a lot in return.

We plan to leverage our contacts within the business community to connect Rudd Scholars to mentors in your chosen fields so you’ll get a glimpse of the real world you’ll enter after graduation.  We don’t care what you study, but we do care that you find something you love to do and strive to be the best at it you can be.  My life has taught me that when we obsessively love what we do, as I’ve been lucky enough to do, we are much more likely to succeed despite the obstacles in our way. 

We’ve got a great team of people who will work with you to be sure you’re on track for graduating on time and that your grades don’t slip, but in the end, it’s up to you to seize this opportunity and run with it.  We’ll give you all the support you need but this is training for real life.  If you don’t work hard in our program, we’ll find someone else who will. We can’t, and we won’t, help someone who won’t help themselves.

It really is my hope that some of what I’ve learned throughout my life, will be conveyed to the minds of such exceptional young people like you. You have already endured so much to get to this point and you represent the very best of the next generation.  I hope and pray you will take advantage of this opportunity to change not only your lives and that of your future children and families, but also your communities and our nation as a whole.  I’m betting on you to make the change we need to see.


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