Albert Einstein once said, “Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.” SLUH alumni continue to personify this mantra by sharing their experience and expertise in various fields with Jr. Bills – at Backer Memorial and beyond in Washington, DC, Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
This dynamic allows students to see firsthand what it means to be a leader and innovator in engineering, science, business, finance, religion, media and medicine, and what it takes to get there. It inspires them to learn more by asking questions and seeking their own pathways to fulfill their dreams. And it’s a dynamic that can come full circle, with alumni learning from students.
The following pages highlight just a few of many graduates who are generous with their time and willing to share their intellect and perspectives.
Dr. Dennis Jansen '75 Reflects on Vitale, Valiquette and the Economic Way of Thinking
Dr. Dennis Jansen '75 is Professor of Economics and the Jordan Professor of Public Policy at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. He holds a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and undergraduate degrees in mathematics and economics from Saint Louis University.
How did SLUH prepare you for a successful career in college and beyond?
SLUH was my introduction to serious academic coursework in a friendly and respectful yet competitive environment. Many of the courses I took were taught at the college level. My peers were smart, serious and hard-working, and the faculty treated us as such. After SLUH, I wasn’t regularly surrounded by that overall caliber of peers until I entered the Ph.D. program in economics at the University of North Carolina.
If you could do high school all over again, what would you change to better prepare yourself for your life after SLUH?
I had several outside interests and constraints (I had to work to pay for part of my tuition), but I also chose not to spend much time on campus during the weekends. I could have broadened my character more with the variety of outside-theclassroom experiences available at SLUH.
What is the most important aspect of economics that you have learned throughout your career?
Economics is a difficult subject for many, requiring a combination of talents. Some students find ‘the economic way of thinking’ to be easy, almost common sense. I was one of them. Others find it a topic seemingly impossible to follow. I like to share John Maynard Keynes on this: “…the master-economist must possess a rare combination of gifts. He must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher – in some degree. He must understand symbols and speak in words. He must contemplate the particular in terms of the general and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. He must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of man’s nature or his institutions must lie entirely outside his regard. He must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near to earth as a politician.”
What advice would you give to a student planning on studying economics in college?
Economics is a great major if you find the economic way of thinking attractive and (relatively) easy. It is a major with incredible flexibility and an excellent degree to have if you want to get an MBA or a master’s degree in subjects ranging from business to human resources to public policy. It is also an excellent degree if you want to attend law school or apply for advanced study in the other social sciences.
How has SLUH influenced your daily practice of faith as an adult?
I think the biggest special contribution of SLUH was the community of faith formed by the faculty and students worshipping and praying together and studying religion together. There was also a focus on community outreach, perhaps best exemplified by our individual senior projects. My senior project provided a learning experience that I recall vividly to this day.
What is the biggest challenge or mistake that you have faced and what did you learn from it?
While I don’t have a single defining ‘biggest challenge,’ my family has provided me a source of constant personal growth. My wife and I have three daughters together and five grandchildren. Being married for 40 years and raising children and grandchildren has provided plenty of challenges and opportunities for personal growth, while allowing room for me to learn from my mistakes.
What personal characteristics are most important in attaining success in business?
Honesty, competence and trust. If you have these traits, colleagues and even competitors will want to work with and for you.
Who was/were your mentor(s) growing up?
Mr. Joseph Vitale taught economics at SLUH. I had never really heard of economics prior to his courses I took as an upperclassman, but thanks to him I quickly fell in love with the subject. I later learned that our textbook was exactly the one used at many universities, which probably explains why the AP exams were so easy for me. Fr. Thomas Valiquette, also on SLUH’s faculty, taught me physics as well as some life lessons. He gave me an instant ‘JUG’ when I lit the surface of one of those fireproof lab tables on fire with an alcohol burner! Later he presided at my wedding.
What are three books that you recommend every aspiring business major read?
Burt Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wall Street; Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson; and Tim Harford’s The Undercover Economist.
Questions by Jakub Gorzko '19.
Jakub is a leader of the Ignatian Business Leaders, participates in National Honor Society, is active in the Jazz and Symphonic Bands, and plays racquetball. He wants to study finance and investing in college.
Former Wendy’s CEO loves a good burger and doesn’t cut corners
Jack Schuessler '69 earned his undergraduate degree from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, before joining Wendy’s as a manager trainee in Atlanta in 1974. He remained at the company his entire career, gaining more responsibility and ascending the ranks until 2000, when he became chief executive. Schuessler served in that role until he retired in 2006. He and his wife Patty reside in Columbus, Ohio, and have three children and five grandkids.
What is your favorite item to order at Wendy’s?
Double cheeseburger with mayo, onion and mustard. This has the perfect meat to bun ratio.
Which teacher inspired you the most at SLUH?
Father Kellet, on the first day of his freshman Latin class, said, “Welcome boys, you’re not in Sister Esmarelda’s class anymore.” There was no doubt that he meant business. He would instill hard work and discipline with all of his students. He had a love for SLUH that was always evident.
How did your Jesuit education at both the high school and college level affect your business decisions as the CEO at Wendy’s?
A Jesuit education teaches a person how to think. In life, there is not a playbook for every situation one encounters. Critical thinking skills are necessary to successfully solve tough and unique problems. This is the biggest takeaway, for me, from a Jesuit education.
What is your favorite SLUH tradition and why?
Daily Mass in the chapel before classes began. It helped put me in a good frame of mind for the day. Also, pep rallies, especially before games with CBC. It’s always fun to beat CBC in anything.
How did you manage to keep a balance of work and family life while holding a high position at a major company?
I always had a heavy travel schedule, so this balance was important to me. I had a mind set that quality of time is as important, if not more so, as quantity of time. I would know what’s most important to my wife and kids and I would be there for them. Something as simple as family dinners was a great way to spend meaningful time with the family.
What was your favorite class at SLUH?
History was my favorite class. History can teach many lessons about leadership, courage, hard work and determination. These are all skills to help people be successful in any profession.
What book inspired you the most in your business practice? Good to Great by Jim Collins. He opened the book with the statement, “Good is the enemy of great.” If we accept being good enough we won’t strive to be great. He reviews this idea in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
What is one failure in your career that you learned the most from?
When I graduated from college, I went to Atlanta to visit my brother. I fell in love with the city and started looking for a job. While searching, I had a part-time job as a waiter at a Red Lobster restaurant. I was great with the customers, but I dropped a good number of plates of food that I was delivering to the tables. After a few weeks my boss said I wasn’t cut out for the restaurant business and let me go. The next day, I was interviewed and hired by Wendy’s into their Management Training Program. What I learned was to match my skills with the job and then throughout my career develop my skills for the next position. Is there anything that you wished you would’ve been involved in during your time at SLUH? No regrets.
Do you ever get tired of eating Wendy’s?
I never get tired of eating a Wendy’s hamburger. I’m often asked “Why are Wendy’s hamburgers square?” and my reply is “Because we don’t cut corners.”
Questions by Jon Ferrari '19. Jon heads the marketing branch of the Ignatius Business Leaders, is a member of the Film Club and a leader of the Tailgate Club. He plays racquetball, played C-team inline hockey and serves as the head of communications for Student Council. “Next fall I hope to study film production at the University of Southern California,” he says. “I want to follow my passion and become a film director after college.”
John Wagner '87 Shares a Deep Appreciation for Mimeographs and The Boss
John Wagner ‘87 is a national reporter leading the breaking political news team at the Washington Post. A former Prep News editor and Stanford graduate, he has covered the Trump White House and focused on the Democratic campaigns during the 2016 presidential election.
What part of your time at SLUH was most formative for your life and career?
I was fortunate to serve as editor of the Prep News both my junior and senior years. That set me on a course from which I’ve never looked back. In the late ‘80s, we were producing the paper on a mimeograph machine. I still smile when I think about our moderator at the time, Mr. Jim Raterman, cranking the machine late into the night, oftentimes with a little ink on his hands and sometimes his clothes. He recently attended an alumni reception in Washington, and I was reminded of what an inspiration he was.
It was pretty unique to be part of a high school paper that published weekly and to be at a school where we were given the freedom to do real journalism, even when that meant questioning authority.
What Jesuit values (if any) do you still embrace in your life today?
In ways that I sometimes don’t fully appreciate, I continue to be guided by the “men for others” mantra. For me, a guiding principle behind anything I write is what it means for real people, not just politicians in Washington.
What is your favorite memory from your childhood or young adulthood?
There are many, but among the most vivid was during my senior year at SLUH when I first visited Stanford after having received an acceptance letter. I remember literally shaking as I got out of a shuttle from the airport and seeing the quad there. At that point, there was little doubt in my mind about where I wanted to go to college. It was a great tribute to how well SLUH had prepared me for what would come.
Who is your role model and why?
While my career has been built on covering attention-seeking politicians, my father was a very private man who never sought the public eye. He was relentlessly devoted to his family and to making sure my sister and I had opportunities that he never had. That’s something I want to live up to.
What literary work, music, or other art form do you find most valuable?
I’m a huge music fan, partly because of its function of marking time and fostering nostalgia. Recently I went to hear Rhett Miller, the frontman of the alt-country band Old 97s play a solo show in Washington. I’ve been a fan of the band for more than 20 years. Several of his songs remind me of pivotal moments in my life, and it’s great to have an opportunity to reflect on what those meant.
Where is your favorite area to travel either in the country or the world?
As a reporter covering the 2016 presidential campaign, I had the opportunity to interview people across the country about what matters to them. As someone who lives in Washington, it was a very valuable reminder that most people elsewhere are not as consumed with the daily drama of D.C. as we are. That experience has been as important as any particular vacation I’ve taken in years.
What hobby or activity outside of work are you passionate about?
I’m probably most passionate about music, for reasons outlined above. I’ve seen Bruce Springsteen live probably two dozen times, but each time seems to be more inspiring than the last. I’m also a loyal fan of a large stable of far lesser-known acts. How has your life changed for the better in the past 20 years? That’s an easy one. My son William will turn 20 in January.
What moment do you see as the highlight of your life right now?
See above. Frankly, everything William achieves I consider a highlight of my life. He’s ridiculously smart and an amazing artist, both as a painter and musician. William just started his sophomore year at Johns Hopkins, and I could not be more proud.
Are you still in contact with friends from high school? How have those relationships changed over the years?
I did a better job of staying in touch with classmates in the years following graduation than I have since. That said, in the last year, I’ve had an opportunity to reconnect with some classmates in the D.C. area. I’ve particularly enjoyed becoming friends with Ed McNicholas ‘87, a lawyer whose office is about two blocks from mine. A few weeks ago, we went to see the Cardinals play the Nationals. Unfortunately, it didn’t end well for the Cardinals. But I was reminded of what great people SLUH produces.
Questions by Handley Hicks '19.
Handley is a Prep News editor and member of the Blue Crew, Student Council’s spirit squad. He also plays guitar in both jazz band and jazz combo, and plans to study engineering in college.
Federal Judge Deliberates on Recycled Tires, P90X and Supersonic Speed
Ray Gruender '81, a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis, is a federal judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. He resides in St. Louis with his wife Judy.
As someone who has experienced what it is like to go to SLUH, how do you see your vocation and profession as a federal judge coincide?
My education at SLUH became the foundation for my professional career. At SLUH, I learned to think critically and, most importantly for my position as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, I learned to write logically, clearly and concisely. With the heavy workload, I also learned to be disciplined and organized. In fact, college and graduate school were relatively easy compared to achieving a SLUH diploma.
How do SLUH’s mottos of “AMDG” and being a “man for others” influence your daily life and those you encounter in your job?
SLUH impressed those mottos on me. The desire to serve God and others to the best of my ability fueled my desire to become a public servant. Even as a young SLUH student struggling to keep up with my bright and talented classmates, I believed that God had a purpose and a plan for me. With His help and guidance, I am fortunate to have served as a federal prosecutor and now serve as a federal judge. As every court session begins, I silently pray a Hail Mary and ask God to inspire me to judge the cases well and fairly.
However, when I think of those phrases, what truly comes to mind is my best friend from my SLUH days, Dr. Mike Feder. Ill with terminal brain cancer, Mike spent most of his final months raising money and doing charitable work for a small, impoverished community in Uganda. He truly embodied our mottos. [Note: The Class of '83 established a scholarship in Mike’s honor to recognize his resilient, selfless spirit.]
What is your greatest memory as a Jr. Bill?
The rigorous course load at SLUH stands out as does the intelligence, talent and compassion of my classmates. We competed for grades, and we competed in sports. Yet you always knew that these classmates would be your brothers for life.
What is the most interesting case you have ever judged?
The most interesting case I have worked on involved the concept of religious liberty. Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri, applied for a grant from the State of Missouri to use recycled tires to resurface the playground of its daycare facility. When it was turned down by the state solely because of its status as a church, Trinity Lutheran filed a federal lawsuit. The district court dismissed the case, and a majority of my court affirmed that decision. I dissented because I concluded that a grant from the state to a church for the purpose of creating an environmentally friendly and safe playground for children did not constitute the establishment of a religion. Last year, the Supreme Court agreed with my position.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside the judicial system?
I can be found running on the Arch grounds almost every day at lunch. I also like to swim and do P90X3 workouts. I am a solid bogey golfer. I have had eight Dalmatians throughout my life with Winston being my current spotted buddy. I used to like to read, mostly history and biographies. Since becoming a judge, my recreational reading has tapered off, as I read approximately 3,000 pages of briefs a month.
Who has made the most profound impact on your life and why?
My mother worked hard to spur my interest in learning at an early age, using flash cards for letters, words and math problems. She returned to work to help pay my tuition at SLUH and provided me the stability a young man needs. She always told me that I had the ability to be whatever I wanted if I worked hard enough. She also kept me out of trouble as she always knew when I was up to no good. I couldn’t get away with anything. Ronald Regan, who won the Cold War without firing a shot, and Winston Churchill, who saved the Western World during World War II, are a distant second and third to my mom.
How has your career evolved? Did you want to be something other than a judge or pursue other careers?
I had the “political bug,” even as a SLUH student. After law school, I joined a large law firm, Lewis and Rice, where by chance, I practiced in the area of white collar criminal defense. This led to my becoming an Assistant U.S. Attorney, during which I prosecuted public corruption and white collar crime cases. In 1994, I ran unsuccessfully for St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney. However, it was this campaign and the people I met during it that opened the doors to my future career. After losing that race, I became a partner at another large firm, Thompson Coburn. In 2011, President George W. Bush nominated me to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri. At the end of that term, my plans either were to run for office again, go back to private practice, or become a judge. In 2004, I was given the opportunity to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, again by President Bush. I gratefully accepted the nomination, and the Senate confirmed me by a vote of 97 to 1.
What is something you have always wanted to do, but have never had the chance to do?
To fly supersonically in a fighter jet.
In a time when many political figures are exposed as corrupt and the gap between the Right and Left widens, what allows you to maintain focus on the preservation of justice?
As a federal judge, I no longer am involved with politics, except perhaps as an observer. However, I am optimistic about our country. While there is some corruption in politics and government, there are far more wonderful public servants who work hard to do the right thing, whether they are on the Right or the Left. As for the so-called gap between the Left and the Right, I don’t think it is any wider than it has been in the past. Both sides want what is best for the country. They just have different beliefs about how best to achieve that end.
If you could visit one city/country, where would you choose and why?
I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively in Europe and see many of the World War II sites. While there are still a few spots in Europe on my list, it may be time to venture further, perhaps China, India, or South Africa.
Questions by Jack Perry '19. Jack manages varsity soccer, is a spirit leader for Student Council and also leads the judicial branch for SLUH’s Youth and Government. He plans to study political science on the Pre-Law track and aspires to become a lawyer.