Clip 1: Pennsylvania’s Coal Country and Initial College Thoughts
(From Stanford University, June 2014)*
Kirst: I was born in West Reading, Pennsylvania. Reading is an industrial city 52 miles northwest of Philadelphia. My father was a painting and paper-hanging contractor there. The firm was called Kirst and Sons Beautifiers of Homes.
So I attended the public schools near Reading—a city which has really fallen on hard times—and was proceeding along to what I thought was the usual choices of colleges in Eastern Pennsylvania.
Clip 2: Admission to Dartmouth: A Big Turning Point
(with Dick Jung, January 2020)
Jung: I’m wondering if you could tell me more about who made the contact to Dartmouth on your behalf, particularly regarding your football? Do you remember?
Kirst: Yeah, I do remember this because this was a big turning point.…
You know, my father’s business never made a lot of money.…
My brother was at Gettysburg College, and he was married. So they were supporting him. And I was the second son. And so, you know, my visions were really looking for lower-priced [unintelligible] Pennsylvania schools and never thought of the Ivy League, which, of course, was a higher price.
I don’t know who suggested that the Dartmouth football coach—which is a guy named Robert L. Blackman. He had a tremendous recruiting net. And I don’t know how they found me, but they appeared at my high school. The assistant coach…and they came to my high school to look at my record, my academic record. And they talked to the principal and got my transcript. And they then began recruiting me for football at Dartmouth, which at that time is just like it is now: they offer you scholarships, but if you don’t play football, they don’t take it away. And so, somehow, I got into Blackman’s recruiting net.
Dartmouth at that time was rated third behind Penn State and Syracuse in Eastern football. Wow! And Blackman won, you know, consistent Ivy League championships. And he was really a piece of work.…
Jung: What did that mean to you? Anything at all, when Dartmouth said come on up?
Kirst: Well, it just elevated my ideas. I mean, it changed my whole vision of what kind of colleges I could attend.
And then, of course, a lot of the professors at Dartmouth came from Harvard. Segal [we hear more about Dr. Martin Segal, Professor of Economics at Dartmouth in a clip later in this installment] went to Harvard. And so, I mean, their whole vision was…you know…you belong at Harvard as a graduate student. I don’t think that would have been if I [had] went to Gettysburg or something. So it just elevated the whole game in my mind as to what I could be and where I could go. As so, yeah, of course, you know, it was like a dream.
Clip 3: Mike’s “Interesting Story”—Placement on Dartmouth’s Wait List
(with Dick Jung, January 2020)
Kirst: This is a very interesting story. I was on the waiting list at Dartmouth.
And so, Blackman called me up and says, “We have an admitted student who is near where you live in Pennsylvania. And his father is bringing him up to look at the school. And I want you to go ride with him, and I’ll get you an interview with the director of admissions at Dartmouth, to see if we can get you off the waiting list.”
I go up and really like Dartmouth. To me it was like…this is what I imagined college to be, you know. You have sort of an image, and this was like the perfect thing.
I go into the admissions office, and he’s fumbling around, and he says, “Where else did you get in?”
And I said, “Well, I got into Duke and I got into Wesleyan in Connecticut. My high school principal thought that was great because I was interested in public affairs, and he had some knowledge of their political science department.”
And he looked at me and said, “You got into Wesleyan?! Well, I know, Bob ‘something down there.’ Let me call him up and see if he saw something I didn’t.…”
So, he says, “You wait outside. I’ll call Bob up at Wesleyan.”
And so, he calls Bob up at Wesleyan. And then he calls me in, and he says, “You know, I really think that this is a good case that he made for you. And [stumbles a bit with his pronouns but ends] we’ll admit you.”
So I was admitted off the waiting list and ended up finishing summa cum laude there [at Dartmouth]. So that tells you something about prediction. And I have a hunch as to what it was.
[Starts and stops, then says] We never heard of and knew much about the SAT. And so, we had to go over to Princeton to take it. Drive from Reading to Princeton in the morning, and take it cold at Princeton.
In the morning you had the aptitude test, and in the afternoon, you had the achievement tests, which were based on what you studied in school. And the aptitude tests—I didn’t do that great on. I’ve never seen questions like this: “fish is to cat as [cat is] to dog”—you know, analogies and everything. You know, this had nothing to do with what I studied.
So I think Dartmouth looked at the SAT, but Wesleyan looked at the achievement exams—where I actually took a special, longer English test. I know I took one on history/social studies. And I got almost perfect scores on the things I studied in school. [Chuckles a bit.] So that I think was crucial. Ever since then, I’ve been frankly leery of the SAT as a good measure of what people know.
Clip 4: “Did you play all four years?”
(From Stanford University, May 2018)*
Mancini: Did you play all four years?
Kirst: No. I was injured in my freshman year and had a knee injury and was ruled out of action. That knee is bothering me today. My only physical ailment is my football knee. [They chuckle.]
Mancini: How did that injury and not being able to play football anymore change your experience, do you think?
Kirst: It gave me a lot more time to focus on academics. I became more interested in academics than sports, and I didn’t really miss it after that. I think I took nearly every economics course they had in the [economics] department [at Dartmouth].
Clip 5: The College Summer Job When Mike Became “Hooked On Washington”
(From Stanford University, May 2014)*
Kirst: During that period, one of my professors [Dr. Martin Segal] got me a summer job after my junior year [at Dartmouth] in Washington in the legislative division of the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of Labor. So I was hooked on Washington, and really what I wanted to do was to be in public policy and be a public servant.
* The two autobiographical recordings Mike Kirst did for Stanford University used for this installment are:
1. June 9, 2014 recording. Michael W. Kirst, Professor Emeritus, “Autobiographical Reflections” presentation for the Stanford Emeriti Council. Republished February 5, 2015, by Stanford’s Center for Education Policy Analysis. https://searchworks.stanford.edu/view/nc116hr7647
2. May 3, 2018 interview conducted by Nancy Mancini: Michael W. Kirst, John W. Gardner Legacy Oral History Project (SC1355). Department of Special Collections & University Archives, Stanford Libraries, Stanford, Calif. https://purl.stanford.edu/fb149yr2480