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St. Louis tends to be the Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery among the nation’s metropolitan areas. Garrison Keillor’s fictional shop in Lake Wobegon did its job adequately. Why seek a higher level?
When the late Marguerite Ross Barnett became Chancellor of the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1986, she went to visit the CEO of a major corporation headquartered here. “What’s your vision for UMSL?” asked the CEO. “To be a world-class university,” said Chancellor Barnett. “What’s wrong with just being good?” was the executive’s reply.
Risking adequacy to seek excellence is all too rare in our region. We find it difficult to pay the price to be on top. That’s why we have been so fortunate to have Dr. Peter Raven leading the Missouri Botanical Garden for the past forty years. He transformed a “pretty good garden” into a world-class cultural and scientific institution, one of the three best on the globe along with the New York Botanical Garden and Kew Garden in London. That’s impressive company to keep.
Dr. Raven is also the region’s preeminent scientist, an internationally acclaimed scholar. Long the home secretary for the National Academy of Science, he also received the National Medal of Science, the country’s top prize. He modeled world-class performance for the rest of us who do research.
Thanks, Peter, for showing St. Louis that there are higher steps on the ladder and that, with superb leadership, we can reach them.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Terry Jones is Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri - St. Louis.