By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Looking back on it, the decision was a no-brainer. But Connor Keene had to stop and think for a second: Could he really drop everything and go to Vermont – a state he had never visited – in just one week?
Then it hit him. How could the Grand Canyon University senior not accept an invitation, arranged by his Colangelo College of Business (CCOB) mentors, to participate in six days of discussions about free-market capitalism at the summer home of the late Milton Friedman?
So off he went on a flight to Boston, followed by a drive to Fairlee, Vt., right on the New Hampshire border.
“It was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was such a quick decision,” Keene said. “I was like, ‘Oh, man. Should I go? It’s a week out. I’ve got to buy a plane ticket and all this stuff.’ And then to do it and then to have the experience I had is really special.”
It was an experience offered by the Free To Choose Network, a nonprofit designed to perpetuate the legacy of the famed economist, who passed away in 2006.
The organization views Friedman’s beloved summer home, called Capitaf, as “a one-of-a-kind space for discussion and contemplation on the practical application of Friedman’s ideas to the many public policy issues that citizens in a free society must grapple with on a daily basis.”
It’s a perfect match with the Conscious Capitalism approach CCOB fervently practices. Fortunately for Keene, Canyon Ventures Center Director Robert Vera is one of the practitioners.
“For years I’ve worked with several organizations that educate young people on the importance of responsible free-market development – this is one of those organizations,” Vera said.
So when Vera was told that several students from other universities had backed out of the trip because of the pandemic, he asked Tim Kelley, Assistant Professor for Entrepreneurship and Economics, whom he would recommend.
Keene was at the top of Kelley’s list.
“Connor is one of the most dedicated students that I have seen in my 10 years at GCU,” Kelley said. “He shows initiative that is rare for students and has a level of maturity that makes him an exceptional representative of both GCU and the free enterprise system that we are proudly a part of.
“I think Milton Freedman would be proud to see that there is hope for this next generation.”
Friedman no doubt would be equally proud to hear that today’s students find so much value in what he wrote a half-century ago and beyond.
“It’s almost like he wrote them yesterday,” Keene said. “They apply to so many ideas, so many issues that we see in public policy today.”
The half-dozen assembled students from universities across the country watched a 10-part series Friedman did in late 1970s and early 1980s and spent considerable time discussing his philosophy as well as their own.
“Everyone had time to speak their mind and put what they wanted out on the table, and then we could work with that,” Keene said. “It was really interesting to see what you come in disagreeing on and what you walk out thinking the same about.
“It’s really about creating this space where students can discuss and carry on the ideas and theories that Friedman put forth.”
“Free market capitalism is not this zero-sum game. It’s not ‘I win and you lose.’ It’s about voluntary exchange and just how that leads to win-win situations. I think that’s a mistake that people make when they look at capitalism today.
“I came in with the base understanding of those ideas, and a lot of that definitely came from GCU.”
Before he left, Keene picked up a few copies of two Friedman books, “Free to Choose” and “Capitalism and Freedom,” to read and also to share with his friends.
He plans to apply what he learned to his work with Canyon Angels, in GCU’s entrepreneurship program and, eventually, in his career. He is on schedule to graduate in April after just three years on campus.
Two of Friedman’s teachings stuck out in his mind:
- Don’t question someone else’s motives.
- Discoveries are made by questioning answers.
But the biggest lesson of all was simple:
“I just kind of decided to take a chance – I said, ‘This looks like it could be something really interesting.’ Let’s just say I don’t regret taking the chance.”
It proved to be a capital idea.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
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